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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The Importance of Eating Breakfast

Everyone has heard the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Now that school is back in session it is important that we send our kids off to class every morning with a belly full of nutritious foods! Studies show kids that eat breakfast regularly have higher attendance, overall higher test scores, improved concentration and more easily maintain a healthy weight. Make sure that your children have a healthy breakfast every day, whether that is at home or through the school breakfast program at their school.  

When planning for breakfast, try to always incorporate a lean protein and whole grains. This is a great opportunity to get in a serving of fruit as well! If your children don’t love the traditional breakfast foods, that’s okay. Try reheating leftovers from the night before.  

Here are a few of my favorites for busy school mornings:  

  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, side of fresh fruit and glass of 1% milk  
  • Whole grain cereal (with no more than 10 grams of sugar, and 2-3 grams of fiber per serving), 1% milk, fresh fruit 
  • Instant oatmeal topped with cut up bananas and a glass of 1% milk 
  • Whole grain frozen waffle, fresh fruit, low fat yogurt 
  • Low fat yogurt, granola, fresh fruit  
  • Whole grain muffin, fresh fruit, glass of 1% milk 
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Will your child get to be a CHEF for a Day this year?

While families were scurrying to get everyone ready for the first day of school, area teachers were busy preparing their classrooms and mapping out their lesson plans for the entire school year!  We are so excited that the PB&J Fund gets to be a part of that yearly planning for so many teachers.  We offer a free field trip program to select schools in the Charlottesville area.  Our CHEF for a Day program allows teachers to bring their students to PB&J’s teaching kitchen for an enrichment learning experience that directly supports MATH, SCIENCE, HEALTH, and LANGUAGE ARTS concepts, as well as the SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL skills practiced when working together as a team.  Grade levels included in the program are Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, and 3rd Grade.  Each recipe/lesson is designed with grade-level Standards in mind.  (Can you tell a former teacher created this? 😊 ) 

Our dream is that students will have the opportunity to participate all five years, thus, completing five different recipes and their accompanying nutritional lessons.  CHEF for a Day programming started with the 2017-2018 school year and saw over 50 classes participate.  Just two years later, we anticipate that we will host more than 80 classrooms during the 2019-2020 school year.  That’s over 1400 students!!  Thank you to all of the teachers who will make PB&J a part of their students’ learning experience this school year!  We can’t wait to welcome you!

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Let’s eat healthy this school year!

Believe it – or not – We’re back to school!

It’s still hot and muggy outside here in Cville. We’re still wanting ice water over hot tea. And we’re all still wearing our shorts and sandals instead of sweaters and scarves. The other day, walking downtown, we saw the first red leaf on the ground, and were reminded that the start of the school year is somehow only one short week away!

That means early morning buses, packing lunches, running around, and generally less time to make a healthy dinner for your family. But fear not! We’re here with our top 5 helpful ideas to get a healthy dinner on the table!

  1. Start a weekly menu. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or even all that detailed, but having a list of ideas and sticking to it will really help! You don’t have to buy all your groceries in one go, or prep everything in a mad freezing frenzy on Sunday, but having a schedule will take the pressure off of you during the week. If you have a few favorites slot them in, then add a few new favorites, or schedule a night of takeout. You’ll have less of those “What’s for dinner?” moments.
  2. K.I.S.S. Method. Keep it simple on weeknight meals! Aim for quick, easy meals, you don’t have to be Chef Gordon Ramsay (all the time). Choose recipes that have a total prep & cook time of under one hour. Try to limit the number of special ingredients you will need. We even think it’s great to pick a protein and a vegetable and just cook them simply. We recommend stir-frys, fajitas, and kebabs as simple options. Cutting up larger cuts of meat or vegetables makes them cook faster, and let’s them take on more seasoning, too!
  3. One pot/pan wonders. We love a good soup or stew, especially as we move into cooler months. They are easy to make healthy, filling, affordable, and can be made in just one pot! Sheet pan dinners are simple to make, healthy, easy to clean up, and provide plenty of food for the whole fam! We love the 5 ingredient method of The Kitchn for sheet pan dinners. The internet is loaded with healthy one pot/pan ideas so search around and find some inspiration!
  4. Leftover remix! We pick some of our meals just for the leftovers. Some are great just reheated, some take on a wonderful new life in a new dish! Those fajitas from the other day? Great filling for quesadillas tonight! Your pesto noodles from Tuesday? Add some vinaigrette and chopped veggies on Wednesday for an instant pasta salad!
  5. Keep some healthy-ish SOS meals on hand. No matter how well we plan, or how fast we are cooking, there are going to be days where it just isn’t working out. We recommend keeping some SOS meal options on hand for just such occasions. We like whole grain pasta with tomato sauce or a frozen pesto, whole grain mac and cheese, frozen lean white-meat chicken nuggets, low-sodium canned soups, and frozen peas or vegetable blends as quick-cooking, low-fuss meal options. We also like breakfast for dinner: whole grain, low sugar cereals with 2% milk, yogurt and granola, or scrambled eggs all with a side of fruit are great options!
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We love the Boys & Girls Club of Central VA!

The PB&J Fund works with lots of partner non-profits to run our cooking classes. Our partners help us to reach participants who may not know about our programs. Over the course of a semester we typically work with 10 partners and hold 14 classes per week. Some of our current partners include: ReadyKids, Piedmont Housing Alliance, City of Promise, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge. 

One of our extra special partners is the Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia, who has worked with us to deliver classes since 2010! Before our kitchen opened we held classes inside the Cherry Avenue and Southwood Clubs. (You may have even seen our old kitchen space at Cherry Ave!) Each week we would take food and supplies to the clubs to hold classes. Once the PB&J Fund kitchen opened downtown, it provided us the opportunity to serve more Boys & Girls Club members and is a field trip opportunity for the club members. 

We currently offer classes for the Cherry Avenue, Southwood and Jack Jouett clubs during the school year. Over the summer we hold two classes for the Cherry Avenue club (Elementary and Teens), two classes for the Southwood Club (Elementary and Teens) and one class for the James River Club. Together we’ve served over 550 club members in the last nine years who have participated in 6,600 classes! The Boys and Girls Club is also a huge partner for Holiday Giving, as they allow us to use the Cherry Avenue gym when we sort the food, pack the bags and load the delivery trucks. We wouldn’t be PB&J without our partners like the Boys & Girls Club. We’re grateful to all of our partners for helping us to serve our community! 

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Healthy Snacks on the Go!

For most families, summer is a really busy time of year. We are running from work to summer camps to the pool and everything in between. If your kids are anything like mine, things fall apart quickly when we forget about snack time! Nobody wants a hangry child to deal with! In addition to warding off cranky moods, snacks play an important part in our diets. Children should be eating every 2-3 hours. They have smaller stomachs and can’t eat as much at one sitting. Snacks are also a great opportunity to sneak in an extra serving of fruits and veggies or low fat dairy. When making snacks, try to always include food from at least two different food groups. It is also a good idea to include protein in your snack – it will keep you feeling full longer. So before your next outing, grab one of these snacks to eat on the go!  

Photo by Kristen Kaethler 
  • Whole pieces of fruit: apples, bananas, peaches, pears  
  • Unsalted nuts 
  • Dried fruit 
  • Whole grain crackers 
  • Peanut butter  
  • Plain popcorn  
  • Low-fat mozzarella sticks (if you eat them right away or have a cooler) 
  • Fruit pouches  
  • Cut up veggies: carrot sticks, celery, whole cherry tomatoes  
  • Whole grain pita chips 
  • Low fat yogurt pouches (if you eat them right away or have a cooler) 
  • Whole grain muffins  
Photo by Christian Wiediger

*Of note, some of the above are not age appropriate for young eaters. Toddlers should not be eating nuts, popcorn, hard uncooked veggies or round foods like whole grapes and whole cherry tomatoes because these are choking hazards. You can cut tomatoes and grapes in half or in fourths to make them safer to chew.  

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Move your body as a family!

Physical activity is important for everyone of all ages. If you make a habit of exercising every day at a young age, you are more likely to continue that habit throughout your life. Just like adults, it is recommended for children to get 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. This can be done all at once, or broken into small sessions throughout the day. Physical activity helps build strong muscles and bones, maintain a healthy weight, and helps with coordination and concentration.  

As most parents know, children learn by example. If you lead an active lifestyle and find ways to be active in your daily life, your children will want to join in. There are so many fun activities for the family when the weather is nice! Your kids won’t even realize they are exercising! Always remember to stay hydrated, especially when the weather is hot and you spend long periods of time outside. So grab a bottle of water and try one of these activities today!  

  • Swimming  
  • Bike riding  
  • Outdoor walk or hike  
  • Roller skating 
  • Sports: soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, anything that gets you moving! 
  • Play a game of tag  
  • Go to a playground or splash park  
  • Work together in a garden or do yard work as a family  
  • Have a dance party 
  • Walk the dog  
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Do you really have to go?!

To say that we will miss Carlin Barber is a ridiculous understatement.  She began volunteering with the PB&J Fund in 2014 through Madison House, the student volunteer center at the University of Virginia.  In my role coordinating volunteers, I was fortunate to inherit a volunteer like Carlin when I joined PB&J in 2016. After graduation, Carlin joined us as an intern.  Later, we were thrilled to have her return to the team after an international adventure teaching in the Dominican Republic.

Carlin will be starting graduate school at Vanderbilt University this fall.  As a former high school teacher, and now as a supervisor of volunteers, I have been asked to write a fair number of letters of recommendation over the years. Writing one for someone like Carlin is a piece of cake.  I can recall writing “I’d clone her if I could. She’s that volunteer.” 

Most recently, I was contacted by phone about a job Carlin applied for in Nashville.  It was easy to speak to specific skills and qualities. She’s smart and professional, funny and kind, a real dream colleague, and we will miss her so much this fall.  At the end, the employer asked if I had anything else to add. I said, “I think it’s pretty clear that you’d be a fool not to hire her” and laughed. The interviewer chuckled and said, “That’s what I was thinking.  All my calls are not this easy.”  

We will be sad to see Carlin go at the end of the summer, but we are proud of her for following her heart into teaching.  Having watched her with our students over the years, we like to think that PB&J played a small part. 😊  Please join us in expressing our utmost gratitude and best wishes to Carlin Barber as she starts her next adventure!

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