John Robinson

Holiday Giving 2019!

As the world prepares for the Thanksgiving Holiday, we over here at PB&J are also gearing up for our Holiday Giving program. Holiday Giving is our annual program that gives bags of shelf-stable food to families to help with food while kids are out of school and not able to receive free and reduced prices breakfasts & lunches.

The program is a lot of work, but a labor of love for everyone involved. We begin on Friday evening by receiving thousands of food items, then unpacking and counting, then arranging them to be packed into the bags. Saturday morning our amazing volunteers form an assembly line, pack hundreds of bags, arrange them on trucks, and deliver them to our community partner.

This year is our 10th Holiday Giving program, and we’re celebrating by delivering a total of 919 bags this year! Almost 140 bags more than last year!

This year we want to thank Kroger for their generous support of the program this year. We want to thank The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, for the first time in the program’s history we were able to do almost all of our food ordering through the Food Bank! We are also grateful to 4P Foods for providing the local produce for the bags AND donating a truck and driver for deliveries.

We have been fortunate this year as to have ALL the trucks we’re using for deliveries donated. For that we want to thank Harvest Moon Catering, Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry, Freestyle, Nest Realty, Student Services Moving, Grit Coffee, Martin Horn/Dovetail Design, and last but certainly not least Three Notch’d Brewing Company.

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Healthy Holiday Eating

The holidays are upon us! For many of us that means holiday parties, larger meals, baking and more baking! Research shows that the average American gains 1-2 pounds during the holiday season. This might not seem that extreme, but over time it can add up. You don’t have to throw your healthy lifestyle out the window in order to enjoy this time of year. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:

  1. Everything in Moderation:
    I know you have heard this one before, but it is so important! There is nothing wrong with enjoying a less healthful food (let’s say, pumpkin cheesecake). Eating a small slice isn’t going to make you an unhealthy person, but eating half of the cheesecake might. Enjoy every bite of your appropriately portioned dessert, but then leave it at that. Don’t bring leftovers home to sample every night before bed.
  2. Don’t skip the fruits and vegetables:
    When making your plate at a meal, try to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are naturally low in calories and fat and are packed with fiber. Fiber will help fill your belly up, keeping you from going back for seconds! Choose more of the veggies that don’t include added fat and calories from cream sauces and cheese.
  3. Your health is the sum total of your decisions:
    Like I mentioned in tip number 1, everything is fine in moderation, but all of the less healthful foods do add up over time. Overeating at one family gathering isn’t the end of the world and isn’t going to make you an unhealthy person, but repeating that behavior multiple times a week for the entire holiday season will. If you know that you are going to eat a less healthful dinner that includes dessert, try to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch packed full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. These foods will naturally have less calories, are packed full of nutrients and will also keep you full longer.
  4. Get Moving:
    Don’t forget to exercise! Try to make time most days of the week for physical activity. It is recommended to be physically active for 30-60 minutes most days of the week. This doesn’t have to be all at once, you can break up the time over the course of the day. Try going for a fast paced walk after dinner or signing your family up for a Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning!
  5. Drinks Count Too:
    Don’t forget that calories from drinks add up quickly! Alcoholic beverages, sodas, punch and juices are all filled with empty calories – meaning they have a lot of calories that can add to weight gain, but no beneficial nutrients that your body really needs. So it’s okay to sample some of the eggnog, but try to stick with water for all of your refills!
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Introducing: Vegetarian!

Next week our CHEF Kids programs will begin a 6-week unit focused exclusively on vegetarian cooking. We have a ton of exciting, flavorful recipes in this unit, and we’re super excited to get cooking. But we know our students, and we know the question on all of our students’ minds will be: why?

We were inspired to put together a vegetarian unit by the NY Time’s Food Section’s comprehensive look at how food and food production affect climate change. 26% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production, 58% of that comes from production of animal products. This is largely due to the fact that raising animals and getting them to market takes more land, energy, and water than producing plant proteins. We thought it would be interesting to our students (it will be their planet, one day) to put together some recipes that make plant-based meals as delicious and nutritious as meat-based meals.

As we were researching and preparing for the unit, we began to realize that the plant-based protein options were much, much cheaper, pound-for-pound, than the meat options. Perfect for anyone on a budget or looking for an affordable meal option! So, for the planet and for your purse-strings: give meatless meals a chance! Click over to our recipe section to see our vegetarian recipes.

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Healthy Fall Harvest!

Here in Virginia the summer heat is finally winding down and we have actually had a few crisp fall days! If you’re anything like me, this cooler weather is making you see pumpkins! While the change in season means a lot of our fresh local produce is going away, it doesn’t mean you are out of options. Although you can still get most fresh fruits and veggies year-round in your local grocery store, it does taste better (and is typically less expensive) to eat seasonal produce.

Fruits and veggies are packed with nutrients. The most common nutrients across the board are Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Fiber. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps with wound healing, keeping your body healthy and the absorption of iron, to name a few. Vitamin A is most well-known for its role in vision, but also plays a role in fighting sickness. Fiber helps with digestion and helps our bellies to stay full between meals.

Check out the list below to see which fruits and veggies are in season this fall in Virginia, and which nutrients they are packed with! An “excellent source” means it contains 20% or more of your recommended daily value and a “good source” means it contains 10-19% of your recommended daily value for that nutrient. Regardless of which category it falls in, I promise it’s a delicious and healthy choice!

Excellent Source Vitamin C

Bell Peppers




Sweet Potatoes

Most Winter Squash varieties

Excellent Source Vitamin A

Sweet Potatoes

Most Winter Squash varieties


Excellent Source Fiber



Good Source Vitamin C




Good source Fiber


Sweet Potatoes


Good Source Potassium



Sweet Potatoes

Winter Squash



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Be careful! That knife is sharp!

By our CHEF for a Day Program Manager, Tracey Roberts

My own teenage children make fun of me because I still say this to them every single time I see them using a kitchen knife.  I’ve loved my 3+ years here at PB&J and often wish I’d started my work here earlier in my kids’ lives. I’d love to say that I always cooked with my own kids from an early age, but I’d be fibbing.  I would try here and there, but I wasn’t consistent with it. I now realize that I really missed out on an opportunity. I’m not just talking about the opportunity to teach them something.  

I’m still missing out today that I don’t have two trained assistants working with me as I prepare dinner each night.  They are teens. They should be cooking dinner for ME at this point! My mom was the best of the best, but she never had me cook with her.  Now that she’s gone, I really treasure the few memories of making cookies together and the Thanksgiving she was too ill to cook the meal herself and coached me from her wheelchair to prepare all the family favorites.  Long story short, COOK WITH YOUR KIDS!! It strengthens math and science skills, has them practicing reading and following directions, and, most importantly, makes treasured memories.

Here in the PB&J kitchen, we safety teach kids how to use knives every day.  In our CHEF Kids after-school classes, we start third graders off with paring knives.  Before they ever have a knife in hand, they learn how you walk with the knife down by your side so as to never have it pointed out.  At PB&J, we do a lot of things the same way the staff do them in your favorite restaurant’s busy kitchen.  

We teach our students to use “THE CLAW” (always said with appropriate scary voice) just like professional chefs in order to keep their fingertips safe. We watch the way they are holding the knife to give them tips on how each knife is meant to be used differently (ex. paring knife vs. chef’s knife).  In our CHEF for a Day field trip pr0gram, we have younger students in the PB&J space preparing simple foods. In these classes, we start off with regular table knives. Even though these knives are not sharp at all, we pretend as if they are “the sharpest knives ever made” in order to practice how we treat a knife in a restaurant kitchen.

Start your own child out early with a table knife.  As parents, we tend to cut things up for our kids (because it’s so much faster), but it’s a great chance to work on the motor skills kids are using in their use (or attempted use) of a knife to cut a food.  Start off with soft foods like Jello or even mashed potatoes. It’s just for practice. Try to imagine your child cutting up his/her own pancake while you get to take a bite of a warm pancake for the first time in years!  Hahaha. By 8-9 years old, kids usually have the fine motor skills to start learning how to use a small kitchen knife like a paring knife (with adult supervision, of course).  
Again, don’t start off with a tough flank steak.  You can’t tell me that peeling and slicing up a banana isn’t a fun way to start the day.  😊  Celery is also great for cutting practice, and you can use it in a soup that night for dinner.  The most important thing is to get your kids in there with you in the kitchen. I’m telling you.  Learn from my mistakes! Train your kitchen assistants young! While they think it’s fun instead of work!  -Tracey Roberts, mom to Jack(13) and Lucy(15)

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Our Core Nutritional Lessons

  1. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
    1. When making your plate for a meal, follow the “plate method”. Fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies and fill the other half with protein and whole grains
  • Make half your grains whole grains
    • Throughout the day be mindful of your grain choices. Half of the grains you eat each day should be considered a whole grain such as whole wheat bread, whole oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat tortillas, etc. Whole grains have more fiber which keeps you full longer, helps with digestion and can play a role in lowering cholesterol levels in your body!
  • Everything in moderation
    • It’s okay to eat sweets and less healthful foods, but this should be done in small quantities and less often than foods that are more healthful for your body.
  • Strong bodies need strong bones: Milk Matters!
    • Your body needs calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones and teeth. You can only build your bones as a child – once you reach adulthood you can no longer make your bones stronger! Milk has protein, calcium and vitamin D! Drinking low fat plain milk is lower in calories, fat and sugar than drinking whole milk or flavored milk.
  • Focus on whole fruits (over canned fruit and fruit juice)
    • Fruit is packed with vitamins and fiber and is lower in calories than other snack foods. By choosing whole fruits over canned fruit and fruit juice, you are getting less sugar and more fiber!
  • Vary your veggies (dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy and other vegetables)
    • By choosing different vegetables throughout the day and week, you are getting different vitamins and minerals in your diet. Choose a rainbow of colors!
  • Vary your protein routine (seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds)
    • Choose lean proteins more often (skinless chicken, lean beef, turkey and fish) as these are lower in fat and saturated fat. Try having a meal each week where your protein comes from a plant source (soy products, legumes, nuts and seeds).
  • Limit added sugars: less than 10% daily calories
    • Limit sugary drinks and choose water or unflavored milk most often. Save sugary desserts/snacks for special occasions and substitute fruit and yogurt for dessert.
  • Limit saturated fat: less than 10% daily calories
    • Choose low fat dairy products and lean meats to lower saturated fat intake. When eating foods higher in fat check the label to make sure most of the fat is coming from unsaturated fat instead of saturated or trans-fat! Your body needs fat, so choose healthy (unsaturated) fats over saturated fats.
  • Limit sodium
    • Limiting sodium may help prevent high blood pressure. Choose more whole/fresh foods such as fruits, veggies, meats and whole grains over processed pre-packaged foods.
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Chili Un-recipe!

Here at PB&J we have lots of chili recipes, some with ground meat, some with chunks of meat some with no meat at all! Chili is the perfect dish for the fall, great for cooler evening dinners, easy enough to make up for a large group, and it can be made fast enough for any weeknight meal! As much as we here at PB&J love recipes (and, I mean, we have a whole segment of our website devoted to them, so we love them quite a bit) sometimes using a recipe just isn’t quite the right move.

So how do you make chili without a recipe? Well, chili can be broken into a formula with 5 basic parts:

Liquid + Spices + Veggies + Protein (optional) + Beans (optional if you’re from Cincinnati)

Liquid is the most important element in figuring out the math of your chili. As a good starting point, let’s begin with 4 cups of liquid. With 4 cups, you can serve about 6-8 people a good serving of chili. Your liquid can come from anything: stock, canned tomatoes/tomato sauce (unseasoned), and even water. I prefer chili to have tomatoes, so I use 2 cans (fire-roasted when I have them) and about 2 cups of stock.

Spices. For me, classic chili flavor depends a lot on the spices! It’s just not chili unless it has cumin and a little bit of (spicy) heat. A good place to start (with our 4 cups of liquid) is 2 tbsp of cumin and about ½ tsp of chili flakes (a full tsp if you like it hot, ¼ tsp if you can’t take the heat). I also like to add in 1 tbsp of coriander, 1 tbsp of smoked paprika, ½ tsp of dried oregano, and a pinch of cinnamon. I love 6-7 cloves of garlic minced up in my chili, but if you’re not a garlic head, you can use less or skip it all together. A bay leaf or two while it simmers also adds great flavor!

Veggies! I love a thick, rustic chili with lots of veggies. They add a ton of flavor, plus a powerful nutrition punch. For our 4 cups of liquid, I like about 2-3 cups of veggies. I like some onion, some carrot, and of course some peppers (sweet or spicy, or both– chili does get its name from chili peppers, after all). I’ve also tried some recipes that add celery, and a few that add sweet potato, both perfectly delicious.

Protein. There’s a hot debate in chili circles over what type of protein is best, cubed meat or ground meat. To me, the nice thing about chili is that it can easily accommodate any type of protein, even vegetarian options. For our 4 cups of liquid, I like about 1 lb of meat. I like ground turkey and chicken as lean options, ground beef and cubed stew-beef (look for chuck or round), and even ground pork. If you want a meat substitute, I had an amazing seitan chili that made me ask the cook to promise that it contained no meat! Which brings us to…

Beans. Soak up all that good flavor, and add that perfect texture to your chili. Traditionally black beans, pintos, and kidney beans are the “chili beans” but you can get creative: navy beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas are all good in chili. Always drain and rinse canned beans, unless you plan on simmering them for a long, long time, as that fluid contains a lot of the protein that makes many folks feel gassy. I usually use 2 cans of beans, if you want to leave out meat, I suggest doubling that.

BONUS! Toppings! Half the fun of eating chili is scooping on your favorite toppings. You’ve got so many good choices: shredded cheddar or jack cheese (get 2% for a leaner option), sour cream (again, you can choose the low-fat option), plain Greek yogurt, avocado with lime, pickled jalapeños, crushed tortilla chips, sliced black olives, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, fresh squeezed lime juice, and even chili flakes or hot sauce if you like that extra kick.

What are your favorite chili combos?

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WARNING: Must like kids.

The PB&J Fund is a great place to work and a fun place to volunteer!  Although we do have some classes for adults and teens, the majority of our participants are elementary students.  Kids are funny. That’s a fact. No two days are ever the same, and we love that! Some students walk through our doors so pumped up that we have to scrape them off the ceiling with one of our spatulas to get their energy back down to an inside level.  We LOVE that kids are excited about working in PB&J kitchens! Another day, one of those same students may walk through our door feeling down and in need of some kind words. Our volunteers work with the same class each week, so they can quickly recognize when a student needs a little extra encouragement.  Our volunteers often share their joy that a child at their work table started with a frown but ended with a smile. Everyone walks away from that experience feeling good.  

Don’t tell the kids, but in addition to the culinary skills and nutritional knowledge built into all of our classes, we are also secretly reinforcing academic skills like reading, math, and science.  Teachers know that is a hands-on, enrichment learning experience. PB&J volunteers help our students work through the recipe together, so that means taking turns and sharing jobs. We are there to help them navigate what it means to work as a team.  Some folks call those “soft skills,” but not us. Social/emotional skills are LIFE SKILLS just like learning to cook and making healthy food choices. If getting to play this role in a child’s life once a week sounds like your jam, please know that culinary skills are not required.  We train all of our volunteers on “the PB&J way” (aka the SAFE way) of doing things. Email us at to get started! The kitchen is calling!!

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No Recipe? No problem!

We can’t always cook with a recipe

Here at PB&J, we love recipes! We love writing them. We love testing them. We love teaching them, and cooking from them, and eating the results! But life is busy, and complex, and sometimes, recipes just aren’t the right way to get a meal on the table. We’ve got a few helpful tricks to help you work without a safety net.

Get mathematic:

We like to think of balanced un-recipe meals as a sort of formula. It breaks down roughly like this:

A protein + A vegetable + A whole grain = A pretty darn good meal

You can add some more veggies (of course, we highly recommend that), maybe a sauce, maybe add a salad, maybe get crazy and add some whole fruit, but the general structure stays the same. That’s it.

Assess the situation:

What do you have around? What’s in the pantry? What’s in the freezer? What do you have that you can eat up?! Have some chicken thighs and potatoes? Great, make a pan bake. Have some shrimp and peppers and onions? Well that’s just begging to be made into fajitas!

Use one heat source:

We like to use the K.I.S.S. method (Keep It Simple, Silly). One way to do that is to use one source of heat for all of your cookery in that meal. If you’re roasting your chicken, go ahead and roast your broccoli too. Sautéing the shrimp? Sear up some summer squash and onions! Grilling that salmon? Grill some skewers of veggies, too! You get the idea.

Use one pot/pan to do the work:

Another K.I.S.S. method we swear by is limiting the number of big, heavy pans you have to clean up after the meal! Why not just use one?! We love a good pan bake (aka a sheet pan dinner). What’s a pan bake? It’s when you spread out all of your ingredients on one sheet pan, and roast it all at the same time! For bonus points, you can also line your sheet pan with foil or parchment to make clean up even easier!

We also love stir-fries and fajitas as fast, flavorful one-pan options. Just add a small amount of oil (1 tbsp or less) to a hot pan and cook the veggies, then add the meat, all in one pan!

What should I use?

Some of our favorite, easy proteins:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken cuts (breast, thighs, tenders): takes marinades, sauces, and seasoning well. Roast or grill them whole, or slice or dice into bite-sized pieces to add to a stir-fry.
  • Canned beans: are delicious when warmed up a bit with some seasonings, or stewed for a bit longer. Chick peas are delicious when roasted, too!
  • Salmon filets: do great in the oven, but also on the grill (if you’re careful!)
  • Shrimp: Are awesome in stir-frys, and cook very quickly! Skewer them together and throw them on the grill!
  • Pork tenderloin: cooks quickly whole or even quicker if cut into large sections
  • Lentils: super-fast cooking and take on flavors extremely well!

Some of our favorite, fast-cooking veggies:

  • Sliced or chopped carrots: Great roasted or stir-fried, we love them in fajitas, too!
  • Sliced or chopped peppers: Adds a pop of sweetness to anything!
  • Sliced or chopped summer squash or zucchini: cooks quickly, if the seeds are too large, simply remove them before cooking!
  • Asparagus: one of our favorite veggies to roast or grill.
  • Broccoli florets: roasted broccoli will change your life! (Maybe, no scientific data available on this).


  • Low-sodium soy sauce: we love it in stir-fries, or in a marinade!
  • Pesto: tastes great when tossed on whole-wheat pastas or roasted veggies, and makes a great sauce for lean proteins!
  • Peanut/satay sauce: you can make your own or buy from the store. Adds a ton of flavor to everything!
  • Vinegar & lemon: just a little goes a long way to brightening up your food. We recommend a little acid at the end of cooking fajitas, stews/soups, and spritzed over grilled meats!
  • Sriracha/hot sauce: adds a little zip without complicating things!
  • Herbs: fresh or dried, they add a ton of flavor without any calories or sodium! Find your favorite, or buy a pre-blended bottle like Italian herbs or Montreal seasoning.
  • Adobo seasoning: we love adobo, but it is high in sodium. Just a few pinches add a lot of flavor to roasted meats or veggies!

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Yippee, CAYIP!

This summer we had some new faces helping in the kitchen! We hosted four amazing interns through CAYIP. Meet Anastasia, Caroline, Destynee and Kieairra! The Community Attention Youth Internship Program, or CAYIP, is a six-week summer internship program for youth ages 14 to 21 in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Through CAYIP, interns learn practical workplace readiness skills through hands-on learning in a variety of career paths, such as government services, culinary arts, child care, elderly care, landscaping, cosmetology, and customer service. They also identify their strengths and connect to other positive adult mentors in the community. Interns complete approximately 20 hours of work per week. 

One of our goals at PB&J is to empower youth through cooking. So this program felt like a natural fit! Our interns had three components to their summer: helping with our summer classes, attending culinary skills training led by Chef Antwon, and working in a local restaurant. The interns gave us an extra set of hands in our classes and helped with tasks like preparing food for the recipes, washing dishes, and folding laundry. Classes with Chef Antwon taught them skills like choosing the right knife for the right task, cooking grains, caramelizing food and even how to de-bone a whole fish! The interns spent the other half of their internship putting their skills to use in local restaurants. Our interns worked at Belle, The Alley Light and Citizen Burger Bar.  

Some of our interns were brand new to PB&J which gave us the opportunity to teach them about our mission and the programs we offer to the community. Others had come for programming as elementary and middle school students, and were now able to experience the behind the scenes work! For most, this was their first job and first real paycheck. At the end of the summer 122 youth completed CAYIP in more than 80 sites. We loved being a part of CAYIP again this summer and hope all of our interns come back to see us. We heard some might even want to intern with us again next summer! 

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