For Amy King putting dinner on the table for the family holds a special meaning. First of all, her 'family' consists of three teenagers, their children and a co-worker. Secondly, as a family teacher at the Mooseheart Child City and School, putting the food on the table and providing a warm family atmosphere is her job. And she takes her job very seriously.
"It's a really unique place. It's hard to explain how it impacts my life," she says of the Kane County facilities that celebrated 100 years in 2013. The community houses and educates needy children from kindergarten through high school.
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"My job, my career and my life -- are all one in the same," she says.
Amy has been a teacher at the facility for more than three years and lives in the one house on campus for teen mothers and their children. It is her job to teach her students the social skills they need to successfully navigate the outside world when they graduate.
Amy acts as a pseudo parent, modeling healthy choices, and provides healthy meals every evening. Two of the teenagers in her house will graduate this June, and Amy admits her feelings are bittersweet.
"It will be hard to see them go, but they know their plans, and are set up for success," she says proudly.
Amy earned a degree in criminal justice from Illinois State University and is working on a masters degree in social work, but her knowledge of cooking was gleaned from watching her mother cook and practicing.
"I would say that I'm a self-taught cook via the Food Network," she laughs. "I like to go through magazines for recipes, but I don't like to follow them; I just like to get ideas."
Recently, the Mooseheart campus nutritionists held a recipe contest for the family teachers in a campaign to emphasize the importance of healthy eating. Amy's Fried Rice, a family favorite that disguises cauliflower as rice, took first place.
In fact, camouflaging food is a trick Amy uses frequently for the toddlers in her home. Long strips of thinly-sliced zucchini pass for noodles and the kids love anything that resembles a chicken nugget.
"I just try to make a healthy version," explains Amy.
"I try to cook a balanced meal under the USDA guidelines and it is important that the family sits down together every night for dinner. We want to provide a family environment in our home."
Today Amy shares her recipe for another house favorite, Orange Chicken, an oriental dish spruced up with salsa, and served on rice. Amy loves to grill year round and will be using fresh produce harvested from the Mooseheart garden this summer.
When we caught up with Amy she was taking a few days off to celebrate Mother's Day with her family.
"I like to go home for my mom's cooking. My favorite meal is her meatloaf. I won't eat anyone else's," she laughs. Has she tried to make it herself?
"No! It's one of those things that Mom knows how to do best!"