Great Ideas of the Pandemic

by Aug 12, 2020North Brunswick, People

Nona Phelps of Leland got creative and taught kids to cook in her ‘Tween Cooking Classes.

With more people eating at home and tasked with preparing their own meals, many families isolating at home are relying on take-out from local restaurants or frozen dinners from the grocery store as their go-to dinner sources. As convenient as they may be, they are not always the healthiest choices. That’s why Nona Phelps has made it her mission to bring fun and education into the kitchen by teaching not only her own four children how to cook, but her neighbors’ kids as well.

“I’ve always taught my children how to bake and cook, but during this quarantine, I’ve also put them through several weeks of technique training and flavor profiling,” Phelps says. Her own children have thoroughly enjoyed not only the learning process, but also eating all the delicious things they make, so she thought maybe other children would be interested.


“I reached out to a few of my neighbors and asked them if they would like me to teach their children how to cook and bake,” Phelps says. And, of course, she got several yeses.

Phelps isn’t classically trained as a chef, but she taught herself starting at a young age out of necessity. Today, she still loves to cook and bake every day for her family, learning something new each time.

So far, Phelps has conducted two week-long classes in her home for two different age groups. The first class was for tweens ages 10 to 14, including her own son who just turned 10. “I teach them everything from the basics to how to cook their most desired dish,” she says.

They kicked off the week by picking tomatoes and basil from Phelps’s garden, which they used to make a large batch of tomatoes sauce that they would use in several different recipes throughout the week. She taught her eager pupils how to make their own pasta dough and handmade spaghetti. “The kids were fascinated by the process and appreciated the time and energy that they put into each bit of their meal,” Phelps says.


Two days later, they made their own pizza dough and used the same tomato sauce from earlier in the week. She taught them how to fire up the pizza stone, and they enjoyed learning how to create their own margherita pizzas.
In addition to handmade dinners, Phelps also taught the children how to bake, including cheesecake, lemon bars and cookies.

“They have been amazing, just learning about different flavor profiles and things that they maybe they wouldn’t necessarily choose to eat at home,” Phelps says. “Hopefully, they’ll use their new knowledge to bake and cook for their families.”

Of course, top of mind during the pandemic is safety and hygiene. Everyone has to wear a mask the entire class, wash their hands multiple times and social distance when they all eat outside together. “Sanitizing happens before, during, and after classes to reduce the risk of exposure,” Phelps says. She made the decision not to teach more than five children at a time, in addition to one of her own.


Teaching children how to cook during the pandemic is a great way to keep them active and involved and an opportunity for them to appreciate food from a different perspective. For Phelps herself, it never gets old.
“Cooking is an ever-changing knowledge that I hope to continue to fill my mind and stomach with for many years to come,” she says.

Photography by Matt McGraw