Danielle McNerney, a rising junior at Urbana High School, recently spoke to attendees of her SAVE the MOMS workshop at the Walkersville Library. McNerney is Food Network’s 2017 Chopped Junior Champion and the CEO and founder of SAVE the MOMS. “At the library talk,” said McNerney, “I demonstrated how to make quick and easy chicken salad bites.”
McNerney said the mission of SAVE the MOMS is “to teach kids and teens how to cook in order to give moms (and dads) a break!” She sells recipe cards that help teens prepare healthy meals.
“SAVE the MOMS recipe cards have 10 quick and easy-to-follow recipes that teens and kids can cook for the whole family,” said McNerney. “Each recipe card is broken down into five easy-to-follow steps that are easy to understand. (It’s) perfect for any beginner chef.”
The recipe cards contain more than just instructions for preparing the meal. “The best part about these recipe cards is the helpful safety and cleanup tips that come along with every recipe,” said McNerney. “These tips help teens and kids to learn not only how to cook, but how to take care of their workspace.”
McNerney herself began cooking when she was around eight years. That’s when she had begun to comprehend that her mother had cancer, which she’d been suffering for several years. “At four years old, I would make little salads and simple things like that,” said McNerney, “but it was when I was a little older (that) I fully comprehended what cancer was and how it impacted our family, so that’s when I really started to get cooking.”
“I wanted to find a way to help,” she said. “Both of my parents disliked being in the kitchen, so I felt learning to cook would be the perfect way to help my family during a tough time. Thankfully, my mom has been in remission for 10-plus years, and the passion for cooking I developed at a young age is still growing stronger every day.” Now, McNerney wants to “see other teens and kids learning how to cook in order to help their (families)!”
In 2017, McNerney competed on Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.” On the cooking reality show, contestants between 9 and 15 years of age compete by turning a mystery basket of ingredients into a dish that is judged on creativity, presentation and taste. They create three dishes: an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. Each round lasts 30 minutes.
“Being on ‘Chopped’ was such an amazing experience,” said McNerney. “It was definitely nerve-wracking, but when I stepped into the ‘Chopped’ kitchen, the nerves faded away and I became even more excited than I already was. It definitely was surreal to be competing on a show I had been watching ever since I was young, and to have won was absolutely crazy.”
McNerney used such ingredients as kohlrabi, gumdrops, Turkish pizza and cottage cheese. “In the appetizer round,” she said, “I made a salad that included candied bacon and a fresh cherry-tomato vinaigrette. In the entrée round I made a mac n’ cheese with toasted breadcrumbs on top. Then, in the dessert round, I made a berry Napoleon that had layers of whipped cream, berries and caramel.”
McNerney used some of her winnings from the competition to start her business of selling SAVE the MOMS recipe cards. She wants the learning experience to go beyond a meal here or there, though. “By learning how to cook, I have learned such a valuable life skill,” she said. “I wanted the product I came up with to be a good way for beginner chefs to begin to feel comfortable in the kitchen and to not feel intimidated. “
To promote the business, McNerney posts “lots of delicious food pictures” on her Instagram account, @Savethemoms.
The “quick and easy chicken salad bites” dish that McNerney demonstrated at the library, she said, “was made up of a fresh basil pesto that was spread onto a small round of bread and topped with freshly made chicken salad. That recipe is definitely one of my go-to recipes if I want something quick, fresh and delicious!”