Raleigh, NC

Back-to-school sends fathers into the kitchen

The Triangle Tribune

Tyrone Fox and his son, AJ Fox, peel some potatoes while Raina Xolani helps out.Mia Khatib/Tribune

By Mia Khatib


RALEIGH — Building Our Nation’s Dads, a nonprofit organization in Raleigh, hosted a back-to-school cooking class for fathers and their children at the Poe Center for Health Education last weekend.

Seven fathers showed up with their kids, ages 5-9, to learn Chef John LaTour’s recipe for healthy chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries. Most of the produce was donated by community organizations and sponsors.

LaTour, program director for Healthy Families Healthy Futures, said his life mission is to teach different groups of people how to cook healthy and delicious food. “I've worked in the migrant communities, I've worked with seniors; now I'm working with dads and daughters and sons,” he said.

Following a 25 year-long career in IT, LaTour became a chef. He ran his own cafe for five years and taught culinary at Central Piedmont Community College, where he ran a similar, grant-funded program until the pandemic.

“We were working predominantly in head start communities,” he said. “In some of the underserved communities, the obesity rate, the high blood pressure rate, heart condition rates are high, and a lot of it is diet related. All I want to do is just get one or two people to start thinking more in terms of health through food, not medication.”

LaTour said he has been food insecure before and was one paycheck away from being homeless, but “cooking your own food doesn’t have to be terribly expensive.”

“The problem is that it’s hard to break old habits,” he said. “There are a lot of recipes out there you can do meal prep with [and] it takes no time. You cut up some vegetables, you can do 10 different things with it. Fruit can be a meal, fruit can be a dessert, fruit can be a snack.”

BOND Founder David Houston said the purpose of the organization is to bring fathers closer to their children through fun and productive activities. “Sometimes we kind of think we’re the provider and disciplinarian, and we kind of leave everything else to mom,” he said.

Gregg Armitage said he tries to do one thing with his son and one thing with his daughter every week, but it’s hard to find fun things to do. “If you’re not conscious about it, life goes by,” he said. “That's why we try to make it a regular thing and having events like this is great because it keeps you accountable to that.”

For Armitage and his daughter Rheya, this was the perfect event. “I have a background in cooking and we love cooking,” he said. “This is just a way for us to meet some people and get her more connected to high quality food.”

This was BOND’s first event in Raleigh, but Houston previously hosted a Christmas giveaway and a back-to-school giveaway in his hometown of Salisbury. Houston said he wanted to inspire some of the fathers in his neighborhood to be more involved in their kids’ lives because he was mostly raised by women, and “it was really tough.”

On top of BOND, Houston works full time at Southwest Airlines and part-time for RDU Authority. He said he’s trying to put something together where dads and their kids can take tours at the airport and even ride a plane. “For some of the unfortunate communities, I'm not sure if they will ever actually take a flight. For me, coming up, that was never something that we talked about,” he said.

Houston said the father-child cooking class was a huge success, and the smiles on the kids’ and dads’ faces was amazing.

“In there, I was kind of speechless because my son is 3 and he was just like, ‘Dad, this is the best day ever cooking with you,’ and it just touched me,” he said. “If I want to push the envelope, I'm gonna have to let go of one of my jobs to actually put a little more time into this.”

Mia Khatib, who covers education, is a Report for America corps member.

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