Cooking with Kelly: Bulldog athletes take classes on cheap, easy home cooking

Just as college is a time of new beginnings, world learning and life experience, it’s also a time of hot pockets, frozen pizza and Taco Bell. Not that there’s anything wrong with that for the average student, but for those on campus who also happen to be SEC athletes, there is significant incentive to eat healthy, even if they are on a college budget.

02-08-16 Life Skills Student athletes participate in the "Cooking with Kelly" event hosted by sports dietician Kelly White. The event provided students with hands-on experience making easy, low-cost meals at home. Photo by Kelly Price

That’s why Mississippi State’s athletic department, as part of a continued directive to teach student-athletes life skills, is hosting cooking classes. Kelly White, the department’s full-time nutritionist, coordinates the short classes which began this semester.

On Monday night, I sat in on one of the sessions, joining a table in the Seal Complex multi-purpose room with a pair of track and field National Champions in MSU’s Erica Bougard and Brandon McBride.

“The point of doing this,” we were told as the class begins, “is to teach you how to eat cheap, quick and healthy.”

So, nothing complicated. Nothing expensive. Certainly nothing fancy. The table at the front, shown on the big screen via a stationary camera, was full of bags of frozen microwavable vegetables and sliced chicken. Nothing more complicated than a George Forman grill (“Best investment you can make,” the chef running the show tells us. “Only 20 bucks and it cooks things quick and easy.”) and a standard frying pan are part of the presentation.

Greg Huerkamp is the catering chef for Aramark on campus, regularly cooking meals for the football team. It is he and White who lead the classes, Huerkamp showing how things are made and White explaining the nutritional benefits of each dish.

So, speaking of the dishes, four were taught Monday night: fried rice with teriyaki chicken, parmesan chicken with rice and steamed veggies, chicken quesadillas, and for dessert, banana pudding parfaits. All of them healthy! I’ll share the full recipes from White below, but a few notes on each before.

02-08-16 Life Skills Student athletes participate in the "Cooking with Kelly" event hosted by sports dietician Kelly White. The event provided students with hands-on experience making easy, low-cost meals at home. Photo by Kelly Price

Chicken Fried Rice

Maybe it’s common knowledge, I’m not sure, but the emphasis on this one seemed to be a surprise to the athletes: brown rice is far healthier than white rice, and it has the exact same amount of calories. Brown rice has more fiber and vitamins, leading White to call it “a better form of carbohydrates” that will keep you full longer than white rice.

Additionally, while she recommended light soy sauce instead of regular, she reminded that as athletes (them, not me) their diet requires more salt than most to help stay hydrated.

Surprising discovery: Bougard had never heard of Sriracha. “What do you eat it on?” she asked me. Use it like hot sauce, I told her. While this was a surprising omission in her culinary knowledge, she made up for it later. Story on that when we get to dessert.

Chicken Parm

“Now we’re talking,” McBride said.

The common theme here, as you may have noticed, is chicken. It’s a healthy meat and good source of protein without being fatty, but as White acknowledged, when you eat a lot of it, you need to find ways to make it taste better and/or different from meal-to-meal. In this instance, White recommended using bread crumbs, the Italian style being a good fit for chicken parm.

“Now, who knows how to tell when pasta is ready?” Huerkamp asked.

“Throw it on the wall,” Bougard called out.

“Your landlord wouldn’t like that,” he replied. “Just make sure it’s loose and soft.”

This was an instance where the cooking-on-a-college-budget factor came in. The end result is a fancy looking dish, but as Huerkamp shared, just buying bags of frozen vegetables and heating them up in the microwave is plenty healthy and quite simple, in addition to being cost-effective.

“Does everyone have a microwave?” White asked.

“I would hope so,” Bougard said. “Living in the stone age if you don’t.”

Or perhaps Victorian Age. Whenever. But yeah, college students have microwaves, as a generality.

Chicken Quesadillas

“This really is quick,” Huerkamp said. “You can make this for lunch. It’s so easy.”

Life SkillsAnother recommendation on product came from White here, who said whole wheat tortillas are preferable to flour, if available. They have more fiber, for one thing, and like the brown rice, offer more substance for a similar amount of calories.

Speaking of calories, White suggested use of salsa as a main topping or dipping ingredient, as opposed to condiments like ranch, cheese or even sour cream. An entire jar of salsa has, for instance, no more calories than just a couple spoonfuls of sour cream.

Though, as she and McBride pointed out, caloric intake can be less important to some athletes than others.

“I feel like for a distance runner calories don’t really matter,” commented McBride, a National Champion and perfectly-lean distance runner.

Banana Pudding

The last and most interactive dish, stations were set up at each table for the student-athletes to make their own cups of banana pudding. This is where Bougard turned my entire life of banana eating on its head. As taught by her grandmother growing up, Bougard peels her bananas from the bottom.

Just pinch one of the four sides of the bottom point and squeeze. The sides easily break apart and then you peel from the bottom to the top. This prevents any accidental squishing of the top of the banana when bending the stalk, and also helps make sure you avoid the awkward slip-ups when the full peel cracks open down the side as you’re trying to just peel from the top.

Anyway, the banana pudding. We were all skeptical based on the lack of fat, sugar and butter in the ingredients, but it was actually very good. I’d eat it again, for sure.

If you’re interested in the recipes for any, feel free to save the ones below. straight from the notecards White passed out.


02-08-16 Life Skills Student athletes participate in the "Cooking with Kelly" event hosted by sports dietician Kelly White. The event provided students with hands-on experience making easy, low-cost meals at home. Photo by Kelly Price

Fried Rice with Teriyaki Chicken

Teriyaki Chicken

8 ounces of fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast

½ cup of teriyaki sauce, Kikkoman

Cooking spray, Canola Oil

To marinate:

Place chicken breasts in zip-lock bag, add teriyaki sauce and then refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 6 hours.

To Grill:

Spray cooking spray on George Forman Grill and preheat for at least five minutes. Remove chicken form zip-lock bag and place on grill. Close cover. Grill for 3-5 minutes or until juices run clear. Remove from grill and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Fried Rice

Cooking spray, Canola Oil

½ cup yellow onion, chopped

1 cup frozen pea and carrot blend

8 ounces teriyaki chicken, cubed

3 cups cooked brown rice

1 whole egg

2 tablespoons light soy sauce, Kikkoman

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tbsp Sriracha

To Cook:

Spray cooking spray generously in a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, peas and carrots then stir fry until tender, about two minutes, then add garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Add the egg and scramble. Add cooked chicken, rice and soy sauce in wok then toss well to combine and serve.


02-08-16 Life Skills Student athletes participate in the "Cooking with Kelly" event hosted by sports dietician Kelly White. The event provided students with hands-on experience making easy, low-cost meals at home. Photo by Kelly Price

Parmesan Chicken with Pasta and Steamed Veggies

Parmesan Chicken

6 ounces skinless, boneless chicken tenders or breasts

½ cup dry breadcrumbs, Progresso, Italian Style

1 cup Kraft grated parmesan cheese

1 large egg

½ cup water

1/8 teaspoon salt

Cooking spray, Canola Oil

To Cook:

In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. In another bowl, lightly beat egg, water and salt. Toss chicken in egg mixture, then dip chicken in bread crumb mixture. Spray pam on a large skillet then place on the stove and heat over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Serve with pasta, marinara and vegetables.

Marinara Pasta

4 ounces whole wheat pasta – fettuccine, spaghetti, angel hair

1 jar marinara

¼ cup shredded mozzarella

To Cook and Assemble:

Fill two quarter pot halfway with water and season with salt. Place on the stove on high and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender. The pasta should have no crunch. Strain the water off the pasta.

Pour the jar of marinara in a microwavable bowl and heat until hot about 3-4 minutes.

Place pasta on a plate, then pour marinara on pasta and sprinkle with mozzarella.

Steamed Vegetables

2 cups fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower)

To Cook and Assemble:

Add 1 inch of water to the pan and insert steamer basket. Bring water to a boil. Scatter vegetables over steamer basket. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium. Vegetables are done when you can easily pierce the thickest part of the vegetable with a fork. Serve the vegetables with either: Mrs. Dash, squeeze of lemon or parmesan on top.


Life SkillsChicken Quesadillas

6 ounces cooked and season fajita chicken (Tyson Grilled and Ready Fajita Chicken Strips)

Cooking spray, Canola Oil

10 inch whole wheat tortilla

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Sour Cream, Lite


To Cook:

Preheat Foreman grill 5 minutes with lid closed. Use high setting if grill has temperature controls.

Lay out tortillas on a flat surface and cover half with cheese, then chicken, then salsa. Fold other half of tortilla over the top of the cheese and chicken. Spray with Pam and place on grill and close lid. Grill 4-6 minutes until cheese is melted and tortilla is golden brown.

Remove from grill and use a knife or pizza cutter and slice quesadilla into four pieces.

Serve with sour cream and salsa.


Life SkillsBanana Pudding Parfaits

1 box sugar free Jello banana cream pudding

1 1.2 cups skim milk

1 tub low fat whipped topping

1 banana, peeled and slice

1 cup of Nilla Wafers reduced fat

To Assemble:

In a mixing bowl, add pudding mix. With a whisk or spoon, stir and slowly add the milk until smooth. Place pudding mixture in the refrigerator and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

In a small glass or cup, spread pudding on bottom. Add a layer of cookies, then whipped toppings, then bananas. Repeat layering until all the pudding is used.

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