Tomato Sauce with Ground Turkey and Vegetables Recipe – An Introduction to Common Threads

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to a cooking class.  Not an ordinary cooking class mind you, but one focusing on young cooks, some as young as 8, who were learning cooking basics and so much more.  I was at a Common Threads cooking class.

I had heard about this organization started by celebrated Chef Art Smith, awhile ago and took this opportunity to go and see for myself what this organization was all about, and was I ever impressed.

The children from St. Helen’s School (who were chosen for the program by competing in an essay contest) arrived at the cooking school in Whole Foods, Lincoln Park promptly at 4:30.  They filed in, took off their coats and hats and immediately put on their chef”s hat, apron and name tag.  They went to their assigned tables and had a healthy snack of fruit and then a group stretch.

Every week, for the 10 week session,  they learn cooking skills and more by focusing on learning about the food and culture of different countries…this week, it’s Italy.  The premise is to have a nutritious ethnic meal for 4 that costs around $10.  They pass around a picture of an Italian family eating at their dinner table. They learn a few words in Italian… ciao, antipasto, buon appetito, fromaggio, insalata and pasta.

Chef Nicole is their instructor for this series, she shows the children pictures of what they are going to prepare that day today… tomato sauce with ground turkey and vegetables over baked polenta, and for dessert, fresh strawberries and ricotta cheese with honey. Chef Nicole also talks about the nutritional values of the foods they will be making.   She explains some examples of Italian etiquette because teaching the children manners is a big part of the Common Threads philosophy…they teach that manners matter. In fact, once a year, all of the children who participate in the program meet to enjoy a donated meal at a  fine restaurant so they can practice their manners and I heard that this is one of the highlights of the program.

Chef Nicole then reinforces knife skills by telling the children to remember to make a “bear claw” and to rock and chop.   She also quizzes them on some things that they had learned in previous weeks by asking for examples of whole grains.

There are several volunteers to assist Chef Nicole and the children break up into their groups to begin prepping the food, each group has an adult volunteer to make sure that all is done properly and safely.  On each table is a tray with the ingredients that they will be preparing.

The children begin their assigned tasks, and soon all is ready for the volunteers to collect the ingredients to go into the community pot.

They assemble at the stove where Chef Nicole teaches them about sauteing, and then the ingredients for the tomato sauce are put into the pot to simmer while the children stir.

Some students are preparing polenta.

While others are getting  the dessert ready.

The children start the clean up while the meal finishes cooking.

They then remove their hats and aprons and do an assignment in their passports which asks questions related to what they made that day.

Then, while they are waiting to be served by the volunteers they play a game of “kitchen bingo” using kitchen terms instead of numbers.

Before eating, they recite they Common Threads Creed.

Now it’s time for the children to go home and share their new found knowledge with their families to get everyone involved in eating healthy, nutritious meals.  There is also a Parent Outreach meeting once per session where a staff member of Common Threads teaches parents the benefits of eating a healthy diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein.

While the children were assembling to leave, Chef Nicole tells them, “Thank you for making my Tuesday special.  Next week Senegal.”

What is saw at the class is a perfect example of why Common Threads is reaching their goals.  Linda Novick O’Keefe, Executive Director says “Common Threads is an organization with the biggest heart and the widest arms; we are a family of friends brought together by a love of food and a belief that there is magic and power in cooking for those you love and eating together at the table”.  She also says, “The table is the place where we come together to share a meal and celebrate love and the things we have in common. Common Threads’  table reaches over 6,300 children and their families in 4 cities: Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. each year.  By teaching low-income children how to cook nutritious, affordable, and wholesome meals we are not only helping them develop the life-long skill of cooking, but also building their self-esteem and creating measurable positive changes”.

Yep, measurable changes…Common Threads has statistics that back up the fact that the program is making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged families.

I felt that the Common Threads  mission statement really compliments what I’m trying to achieve with Return to Sunday Supper.  So I wanted to present this organization to you so that perhaps in this season of giving, you might have room in your heart to help some disadvantaged children learn to have a healthier future so I’m going to put a “donate” button on my site which will take you directly to Common Threads but till then you can make a donation using this direct link.

I have received permission from Common Threads to share their recipe for the Tomato Sauce with Ground Turkey and Veggies with you so that you can experience what the children were cooking.   I hope that you enjoy it as much as the children did…it was quite a hit!


Tomato Sauce with Ground Turkey and Vegetables Recipe

Yield: 4 - 6 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes


1/2 lb. ground turkey
1 large carrot
1/2 onion
1 stalk celery
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 - 15 oz. can whole or diced tomatoes
4 or more basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste


Mince the garlic clove and plank (cut in half), slice and dice the onion, carrot and celery. Slice the basil into thin strips.
Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground turkey and saute until it is all browned.
Add the carrot, onion, celery and garlic and cook until onions are translucent or clear, about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir frequently to make sure the onion don't burn and/or stick to the pan.
Add the tomatoes and half the basil leaves and cook until the sauce starts to simmer. Add the crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Turn the heat to low, and reduce the sauce for another 30 minutes. Reducing makes the sauce thicker by cooking out the extra water.
Turn off the heat and add the remaining basil.
Make sure to taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper, if you want. Serve while still warm over cooked whole grain polenta or over pasta or garlic bread.



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