“If you're able to prepare a meal together and enjoy it together, you're creating those memories and making that bond more stable than just getting fast food or putting a frozen pizza in the oven.”

Lynsee Kessler hopes to bring families together, one dinner at a time.

The McPherson resident leads Family Ingredients, a cooking class that focuses on teaching skills while encouraging all members of the family to collaborate.

“The only time families have together anymore is around the table, so this class is about teaching families that cooking from scratch or in a healthy way isn’t as hard or as expensive as it’s made out to be,” Kessler explained. “If you’re able to prepare a meal together and enjoy it together, you’re creating those memories and making that bond more stable than just getting fast food or putting a frozen pizza in the oven.”

Three or four families meet weekly for the free, month-long class. Each week, families cook together, learn safety tips, share the meal and do dishes together. Openings are still available in March, April and May.

The only cost is for families to bring an ingredient for that evening’s meal.

“There’s definitely a culinary class at the root of this. The youngest up to the oldest will learn something, whether it’s how to make gravy or wash vegetables,” Kessler said. “We talk about safety, like turning handles in to the center of the stove, how to chop garlic, measuring, or getting your hands dirty when mixing a meatloaf, so they’re learning all sorts of basic skills.”

The whole purpose of Kessler’s endeavor is to give families skills and ideas they can rely on when shopping and cooking in the future.

“I want them to feel confident enough to put different ingredients together to make something new, while spending time around the table with their families,” Kessler said. “I’m seeing that many of these skills haven’t been passed on, not lost. People are busy so it’s easier to have a freezer meal and their children may not have seen them use these skills.”

The idea came to Kessler as she was journaling last year. She saw Family Ingredients as a culmination of her favorite aspects of cooking, while passing on that passion to others.

“I love cooking, making new meals from leftovers, and we’ve always worked on a budget,” Kessler explained. “We’ve only been in this community for about a year and I realized that there’s a lot more lower income families here than I originally thought. Cooking on a budget could be a big help, while also bringing families together around the table to build up communication.”

By partnering with Free Methodist Church in McPherson, Kessler is able to equip families to make these meals at home.

“Outreach McPherson at the church does most of the funding for the class so we don’t need to charge for it. With the class, we also have a pantry. If there are families coming in who don’t have the means to create these meals at home, we send them home that night with a bag,” Kessler explained. “In that bag are two full meals — there’s two recipe cards, one for like a taco bake, then the makeover meal with the leftovers of that would be enchiladas the next night. If they come to the class, that family could have three meals a week covered.”

Though the course can benefit low-income families, Kessler sees participants in nearly every walk of life at every level of ability.

“The hard part is working with a variety of families. I don’t know where they’re coming from — maybe they have cooking skills and maybe they don’t — so the hard part is making sure they’re learning new skills, not just doing what they already know.”

Kessler chooses recipes for the techniques they can teach, but also for their health benefits.

“Each of the recipes also shows how to incorporate veggies. We have them mixed in with the meatloaf so it’s not just a meat-base, but we’re showing how to incorporate vegetables into just about anything,” Kessler said. “We’ve found that kids start as picky eaters, but as they start helping put dinner on the table, they’ll want to at least try what they helped make. Sure, they might still not like it, but you’ve eliminated that battle in helping kids eat healthy.”

So far, the class has been well received, so Kessler hopes to continue guiding families together.

“The response has been fantastic. We’re booked through January and February is overbooked, but we have openings March, April and May,” Kessler said. “I didn’t expect it to make it this far, so I’m excited about the future. It’s a beautiful thing — we’re reaching the people we need to reach.”

For more information or to sign up for a class, call 989-495-3817, email familyingredien@gmail.com or visit the Family Ingredients page on Facebook.