Cooking-Tia Berry and participants

Chef Tia Berry and participants.

BALTIMORE—Inside a bright, clean classroom at Stratford University in Baltimore, 13 women are working busily at their cooking stations.

The subject of today’s class is holiday sides. Chef Tia Berry is showing the women how to cook two dishes that are healthy-but tasty- alternatives to the more decadent dishes that usually show up on holiday tables at this time of year.

It’s part of The American Heart Association’s Simple Cooking with Heart Kitchen. For just $5 participants can learn to cook delicious and heart-healthy meals. They offer classes specializing in things like pork chops, beans and fish. For the holiday season, they are offering different themes like deserts and side dishes. Participants prepare the dishes in the class and take them home to eat and share with their families.

All the dishes prepared in the class are American Heart Association-approved, so participants can be assured they are good for them.

“What we put in our mouths determines the quality of our lives,” said Yvette Mingo, executive director of the American Heart Association’s Greater Baltimore region. She said that one of their goals is to help make eating healthy second nature, by teaching how easy and tasty it can be.

Back in class, Berry alternates between instructing at the front of the classroom, passing around ingrediants to share and making her rounds to the various cook stations. She stops occasionally to pass along cooking tips and tricks to participants.

“It’s your dish; it’s up to you,” she tells one woman.

First up, is a garlic-dill potato salad, where a vinaigrette dressing takes the place of mayonnaise. Later, they’ll make a dish using quinoa, orange zest and toasted almonds.

Berry said her work has a special meaning for her. Her favorite aunt died of a massive heart attack.

Adrienne Jackson (left) and Cynthia Brown both of Baltimore.

“When that happened, I said I really need to make a change.” Another important reason to change her own eating habits, her daughter. “I said I need to be here for her.”

Berry said she likes the program because it makes it easy for people to embrace a healthier diet.

“The program meets people where they are. You have to start somewhere.”

Toni Coleman is volunteering for this class – collecting and washing dirty dishes and helping participants – but she also takes various classes weekly. She says she began coming in March, when she saw Berry do a cooking demonstration on television. She says she’s now completely devoted to the classes.

“I tell everybody I know. I stop people on the streets. I pull my car over,” she said. “It’s so helpful if you have health issues, or are trying to prevent health issues.”

And about the $5 price – “You can’t beat this. It’s not possible.”