Cooking Matters’ success leads to call for volunteers
Angel Rivera wasn’t sure he was going to like eating a yogurt parfait topped with warm homemade granola and chiffonaded mint when he heard it was on the menu. But after learning how to prepare it in the Cooking Matters program — a healthy cooking class offered through Garfield County Public Health — he was pleasantly surprised that it tasted better than anything he could find pre-packaged at the store.
Cooking Matters pairs low-income households with nutrition and culinary experts in six-week courses, aimed at teaching participants how to cook healthy meals on a tight budget.
“Cooking Matters has changed my life,” Rivera said. “I eat healthier, and I am now more than ever conscious about what I feed my son.”
Cooking Matters uses empowerment as a critical component of educating participants, providing the practical tools needed for change.
“Most of our families make less than $45,000 a year, so it is critical that we offer them creative ways to make their money stretch and still be able to provide nutritious meals,” said Drew Schelling, a registered dietitian and program manager. “The reason our program works so well is that we make small changes at a time. We aren’t asking someone to transform their diet in one day, week or even a year.
“We all have different personalities and different barriers in life, and together we make a plan to overcome them,” she added.
The Cooking Matters program focuses on making incremental changes in a person’s eating habits. In Rivera’s case, he set a goal of eating his servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
“That is a huge accomplishment. So many people try to take on too much change at one time, and when they fail, they are afraid to try again,” said Schelling. “In our program, you get the support that you need.”
The Garfield County program has a lot of struggling parents who must be creative when they can’t get to the store. The program teaches innovative ideas, such as substituting a tablespoon of vinegar for one large egg when preparing baked goods, or using vinegar as a household cleaner instead of expensive cleaning products.
“It’s all about cheap, multi-purpose things that can stretch your money,” Schelling noted.
Good nutrition key during pregnancy, early childhood
Pregnancy and early childhood are periods of rapid physical growth and development. Insufficient nutrition during these stages can have permanent negative health outcomes. Not getting enough protein or iron can impact a child’s brain, and not getting enough vitamin D and calcium can impact bone growth that can cause problems well into the future, Schelling added.
“After you have a baby, an immense worry comes over you, no matter who you are or what part of the world or situation you come from,” she said. “But making good choices can be inexpensive and easy. You don’t need to buy brand name baby food. We teach participants how to make the same thing from a 99-cent bag of frozen peas.”
Rivera, who lives in New Castle, admits that the program was an inspiration to his family.
“As a family, we are eating better now. My son and I are closer because we are spending time in the kitchen together,” he said. “I am teaching him how we can explore healthy food together and make fun memories. I am excited for his future because he is off to a healthy start.”
The program is growing so fast that it is in need of volunteers. Cooking Matters is looking for classroom assistants, who are described as “anyone who loves to cook.” There are also openings for culinary experts and nutritionists that are interested in sharing their passion for food and education.
For more information on Garfield County Cooking Matters, or to participate in an upcoming Cooking Matters class, contact the Garfield County Public Health Department at 970-625-5200 or go to garfield-county.com/public-health/cooking-matters.aspx.
Carrie Godes is special projects coordinator for Garfield County Public Health.