If you’ve ever wished that a cooking expert could personally help you and your family create healthier meals, consider that wish granted.

Multiple cooking classes for adults – and children – are available in McKinney for anyone who wants to prepare healthy meals and feel more at home in the kitchen. As an added bonus, these cooking classes are fun, often feature famous local and international cooks (including Princess Diana’s former chef), and they are offered year-round.

Cooking Classes for Kids at Cooper Fitness Center

As many parents know, it’s often a challenge to get kids to eat healthy foods. Tracey Demsky from the Cooper Fitness Center at Craig Ranch has a solution: interactive cooking classes for children ages 4 to 12. Members of the public are welcome; you don’t have to be a fitness center member to enroll your child.

During the monthly cooking classes (twice monthly during the summer) that Demsky enthusiastically runs, kids learn to create meals with a healthy spin on their favorites – such as baked zucchini fries or turkey-and-pear quesadillas. Perhaps the best part for the kids is getting their hands in the ingredients, making the recipes themselves and leaving with a proudly prepared dish.

“Dr. [Kenneth] Cooper is a big advocate of healthy meals going hand in hand with sports and activity for kids to fight childhood obesity, so we try to offer foods that kids already like – such as pizza – and make them healthier,” says Demsky, the food and beverage director at Cooper Craig Ranch who came up with the idea to offer cooking classes for kids and has been leading them since 2010.

“(Kids) are more willing to try healthier foods when they’re in a room of their peers who are also trying those foods,” she says.

It’s important to get kids to eat healthy because it makes it easier for parents to prepare healthy foods that everyone in the family will eat. And, it sets kids on a path to good health at an early age, Demsky says. Once children realize that healthy foods taste great, they will eat them at home too.

Parent Emma Vollman thinks Demsky is a rock star – she’s a true believer in Demsky’s philosophy. That’s because Vollman’s 6-year-old daughter, Carys, was formerly a picky eater with a limited diet who has blossomed into a more adventurous eater thanks to Demsky’s interactive cooking classes.

“She’s been to five of the classes, and she would have never tried to eat any of these new foods before the classes,” Vollman says. “I’ll take the fruits or vegetables or the other things she’s liked in class and buy them at the store and now she’ll eat them at home. It’s opened her mind.”


Kids get creative at Cooking Classes for Kids at the Cooper Fitness Center at Craig Ranch.


Vollman credits her daughter’s willingness to try new foods to the fact that Demsky teaches the classes in a fun, entertaining way and that Carys sees fellow youngsters trying and enjoying new foods.

“The kids love Miss Tracey, and I believe children listen to other kids and teachers better than they listen to a parent sometimes,” says Vollman, whose two other children participate in the classes as well. “The teacher-child relationship is special here.”

For more information: CooperCraigRanch.com or 214-383-1000.

Adults and Kids Learn Quickly at Market Street

At Cooper Craig Ranch, registered dietician Cindy Kleckner runs monthly nutrition lectures and cooking demonstrations for adult members and provides individual consultations. Kleckner is also on the roster of cooking experts who teach multiple classes each month at Market Street grocery store in McKinney.

Ruth Thompson, manager of Market Street’s culinary school, and Maria Caccavale, culinary instructor, are rock stars and ambassadors in their own right among McKinney foodies and those learning to cook. The popular pair is known for fun banter during the cooking classes they teach – so much so that their fans even gave them a Hollywood name: “Rutharia” (a twist on Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s “Brangelina”).

Besides teaching cooking classes, the two also recruit area chefs to lead numerous cooking classes they schedule each month in the fully appointed kitchen on Market Street’s second floor. Chefs include Darren McGrady, the internationally known “Royal Chef ” who cooked for Princess Diana and now works in Dallas; Matt Melton, executive chef at Lawry’s The Prime Rib; and chefs from Seasons 52 and other local and area restaurants.

Recent class offerings included “Battle of the Healthy Meal,” in which Thompson prepared traditional versions of recipes while Market Street registered dietician Alicia Jerome prepared the same recipe in a healthier way. A glutenfree cooking class is offered every other quarter, and meatless meal classes are on the schedule along with Thai, Tuscan and mediterranean cooking classes, among others.

“A lot of our classes teach how to sear [meats] on the grill or in a pan and then finish them in the oven,” Caccavale explains. “That’s a healthy way to prepare meats.”

And, Thompson adds, “All of the cooks stress using fresh ingredients and healthy oils, and our meals are always balanced.”

Market Street also offers numerous kids’ cooking classes each month, as well as classes for children and adults with special needs – an effort of love started by Thompson, who is leaving Market Street this spring to start a nonprofit. Hugs Café nonprofit organization in McKinney will employ adults with special needs.


You’ll find a variety of classes at Market Street’s culinary school (photo by Holly Becka).


Market Street often plays host to scout groups, church groups and neighbors who want to learn to cook together, and Market Street will gladly schedule group sessions or even birthday parties with a cooking theme. Thompson and Caccavale say they also schedule impromptu cooking classes when enough of their regular customers request a particular subject matter. To learn about the impromptu classes, simply call Market Street in McKinney and ask to be added to the culinary school’s email list.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can sign up for Market Street’s volunteer cooking program, which allows you to pay to attend one class, volunteer during two more classes, and then receive a free cooking class to attend.

So the next time you’re in need of kitchen inspiration and instruction, take the opportunity to learn from local experts who would love to guide you and your loved ones through fun, healthy cooking classes.

For more information: MarketStreetDFW.com or 972-548-5140.

Tips to Make Your Cooking Healthier

Market Street registered dietitian Alicia Jerome offers quick tips on how to make your household recipes healthier. If you have questions, be sure to sign up for the tours she gives at Dallas-area Market Street stores in which she teaches customers to shop smarter and healthier.

1, “Trade up” ingredients for those with higher nutritional values. For example, use black beans or red beans in Mexican dishes rather than refried beans. (A simple way to find healthier foods is to look at the “NuVal” – nutritional value – ranking on foods. Several area grocers, including Market Street and Brookshire’s, list NuVal scores for numerous foods. For more information, go to nuval.com.)

2, Use healthier oils, such as olive and canola.

3, Use “real food” – such as real cheese – in recipes rather than nonfat foods, which pump up the flavor using sodium, additives and other unhealthy ingredients. Just be sure to eat full-fat foods in moderation, combined with exercise.

4, Add veggies to practically every dish. When you’re making your favorite lasagna, for example, add in vegetables.

5, Use whole grains wherever you can. Add brown or black rice instead of plain white rice. Experiment with barley and quinoa and infusing your grains with a mixture of water and orange juice with a little orange zest.


About the author: Holly Becka is the owner of HorsePower Communications, a public relations/outreach and business writing firm in McKinney.