Feeding the undergrads at a Saturday workshop

This was the first time we did a Saturday skills workshop. It ran from 8:30 in the morning until 1:00 pm, when two students had another activity. We did it because we wanted to teach the seven new students to our group some basic skills and safety in depth when we could get them all together. I’ll discuss what we did another time. Here I want to share easy ways of feeding them.DSC01283

Feeding students is crucial to the success of evening or Saturday workshops, but it is ever more a challenge as food preferences, intolerances, allergies, and other restrictions become more and more common. I deal with this by trying to keep things relatively separate. I serve no meat. Fruit will please everyone. The salsa and chili are vegan. Dairy and eggs are self-served separately. Wheat is only in the bread and flour tortillas. It is fun to have a few basic dishes and lots of little things to add to them.DSC01302

If you are wondering what exactly to serve on a Saturday workshop, here is a good economical Mexican-themed option. First I give the menu, then the shopping list and recipes. It comes to well under a hundred dollars for 16 students and their mentors served two meals and a snack or two.DSC01216

Breakfast is eggs scrambled on the spot in an electric aluminum wok with shredded cheddar and salsa, accompanied by homemade bread served with butter, jam, and peanut butter. Apples, tangerines, grapes, and strawberries make it festive and satisfy the most delicate of appetites. We had coffee and orange juice for drinks.

Lunch was vegetarian chili accompanied by more cheese, homemade salsa, sour cream, flour and corn tortillas, carrot sticks, and more fruit. We provided Sprite, Coke, and diet Coke, but iced tea might have been better since the Coke was hardly touched. We forgot to bring the homemade biscotti.

Snacks were popcorn, fruit, and leftovers from the other meals.

Microwave, electric wok (I like the kind without a nonstick coating), coffee pot, 4 large bowls and serving spoons, bread knife, cutting board, 16 plates, 16 bowls, 10 coffee cups, 16 water glasses, 16 forks, 16 knives, 16 soup spoons, paper napkins.

Shopping list (for 16 people):

Breakfast: 1 lb. ground coffee, 1 pint half and half, 1 pound sugar, 1 gallon orange juice, 10 apples, 10 tangerines, 1 lb. strawberries, 2 lbs. grapes, 3 dozen eggs, 2 cups bottled tomato salsa, 1 lb. shredded cheddar cheese, butter, jam, bread or rolls.

Lunch: 20 corn tortillas, 20 flour tortillas, 1 pint sour cream, 6 onions (red or yellow), 5 large jalapeños, 3 limes, 2 bunches cilantro, 1 bag baby carrots, 5 tomatoes, 4 lbs. dry pinto beans, 2 small cans tomato paste, 1 large can crushed tomatoes, small bottle olive oil, one head garlic, 2 tablespoons cumin, 2 tablespoons oregano, drinks (sodas, iced tea, water).

Snacks: popcorn, oil, drinks, cookies, fruit (pop the popcorn in the wok).

Besides scrambling the eggs in the wok right before eating, this requires preparing only two things, the salsa and the chili, not counting making the bread, if you do that.

Scrambled eggs: Make this on the spot. Turn on the wok and put a little butter or oil into it. I simply cracked 18 eggs into the wok and stirred them constantly until nearly done. It is important to turn off the wok while they are still moist since the last bit will cook on its own. Otherwise they will be too dry. Cook the second batch only when the first batch is eaten. Keep the leftovers for people to have with the chili at lunch.

Chili: Make this in advance at home. Soak 4 lbs. pinto or black beans overnight, if you have time. Discard the water, refill and cook until tender. Pour off water until it is level with the top of the beans. Sauté 3 chopped onions, garlic, 2 green peppers, 4 ancho, Anaheim, or hatch peppers, and 2 tablespoons cumin in 0.25 cup olive oil. You could make it richer by adding dried peppers, ancho, or chipotle (smoked jalapeño). Add the sauté to the cooked beans along with 2 cans tomato paste, one large can crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons oregano, and one tablespoon salt. If you are using black beans, add a handful of epazote leaves if you have them. Cook an hour or so; this is entirely flexible since the beans are already cooked and the other ingredients just need to meld together. A big pot of this will stay warm a few hours, or can be heated up in portions in the break room microwave and dumped back in the pot. To my taste, it doesn’t even need to be hot to be delicious.

Salsa: Make this in advance at home. This is really more of a pico de gallo. Chop 3 onions, 2 bunches cilantro, 5 jalapeños, and 5 tomatoes, something I do pulsing in the food processor, taking care to leave large chunks. Squeeze in the juice of 3 large limes, or 6 Mexican or key limes. Salt slightly if desired.

The students can add the homemade salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, or tomato salsa to the chili. They can eat it with the tortillas. If they don’t like chili, they can have bread and peanut butter. If they also don’t eat bread, they can have peanut butter on apples. The combinatory possibilities are rich. Our students ate with seeming pleasure, each condimenting their breakfast eggs and lunchtime chili differently. It turned out our group had few food limitations. During breakfast we gave them an introduction to the research, just talk, no powerpoint. During lunch they chatted happily with each other, the ice having been broken by a long morning of plating, streaking, pipetting, and counting.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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2 Responses to Feeding the undergrads at a Saturday workshop

  1. Amy Hurford says:

    Wow, this is GREAT! Thanks. Someone needs to start ‘The scientists cookbook’ and assemble similar recipe ideas. There definitely should be a cookies & other snacks section for seminars/lab meetings.

  2. Pingback: Do you have your own lab training activities? | Sociobiology

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