Every second Saturday of the month we prepare food for roughly one hundred people. We partner with another organization, Aloha House and they do the same every other Saturday. Through trial and error we have developed a method that I’ll share with you. This is how we cook for 100 people.
The first thing we do is plan the recipe for the meal that we are going to serve. We read recipe books, search on the Internet and brainstorm ideas with the staff. After settling on a good recipe, we list all the ingredients, especially the vegetables. We try to make sure that all the vegetables that we are including are very nutritious as for some children it will be their only satisfying meal for the week. After adding as many vegetable to the recipe as we can, we focus on the taste of the food. To do this we make a smaller batch of the recipe to taste. The taste is really important for the kids because they don’t like anything too bitter or spicy. If the sample tastes good we multiply the quantities of vegetables, meat and starch we need to make 100 servings and then we move on to budgeting. We ensure that we can buy all the ingredients and stay within our NSP budget. We try to make dishes that are not too expensive but that are full of nutrition!
Once we’ve finalized the food that we are going to serve, we plan where to buy the ingredients. On the Friday before the NSP we go shopping. We buy vegetables at the public market of Puerto Princesa because the vegetables are fresher and cheaper than anywhere else in town. We choose the healthiest-looking veggies and if we buy enough we can ask for a discount! We buy the meat or chicken, rice or macaroni at the local supermarket (there is only one in Puerto Princesa). Now we can relax until Saturday.
When Saturday morning rolls around, we start chopping early. Whoever is around gets involved because there is a lot of work to be done. When you cook food for children, you have to pay attention to the size of the vegetables. Most of the kids hate to eat vegetables, so we chop them small so that the kids won’t notice them as much. With every NSP, we are becoming faster choppers.
The cooking starts while the chopping is going on to save time. We have two large pots (or kalderos) that we do the cooking in as one is too small. Our master chef, Gonie, is in charge and we all do what she says. She has a talent for estimating the time it takes to boil the rice, how long to cook the meat and how many minutes after boiling before you put in the vegetables. We follow her directions and soon we have pots of delicious food. We never forget to taste it as we cook!
Once the cooking is done we have to get the food to Pulang Lupa, which is 10 kilometers away. We bring over 100 bowls, utensils, cups, and of course the two big pots. Going to Pulang Lupa takes 20 – 25 minutes. It is not really a long drive, but sometimes along the way we start worrying about whether the children will like the food that we made for them, especially when we put in a large amount of veggies. Luckily, we have only had success so far.
Before serving the kids, we set up the tables, arrange the cups, spoons and bowls, to make it easier to scoop out the food. We have a staff member or a helpful mom assigned to every task that has to be done. We keep the lids on the pots while the children sing songs and listen to stories. Depending on the amount of kids present on that day, we have to estimate how much food to put in each bowl. The size of the child is also a factor, so we have the children line up smallest to tallest. We try to have some food left over after the majority have been served because some children arrive late, and when there is extra, we like to give food to the moms and caretakers as well. We distribute the food quickly and orderly. We remind them to say “thank you” so that they learn good manners. Aside from porridge, soups, and rice with toppings, we serve the children fresh milk or taho.
Cleaning time! As the kids and the mothers finish eating, they bring back the bowls, cups, and utensils and put them into one of our plastic containers. Once all the food has been distributed we pack up the tables, chairs and the pots into the car. We make sure that all the things that we brought are in there. While this is going on, the kids enjoy playing with the balls. We always give them time to play after they eat. You can really see on their faces that they are happy and they loved the food. They are so energetic after their meals!
Once we leave Pulang Lupa we head back to our office and we all help with washing the dishes and the pots. We’re all usually pretty tired by this point but our spirits are high. We love holding the NSP sessions because they are really fun. It is wonderful to watch the children get some really nourishing food, and it is great to watch them enjoying themselves, running around playing with balls and playing tag and other games, and just being kids.