Cooking Matters for Families
With the Cooking Matters for Families, kids join their parents in the kitchen for hands-on cooking and nutrition sessions conducted by chefs and dieticians. Cooking Matters is a program of Share Our Strength and is administered in metro Detroit by Gleaners Community Food Bank.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Sarah Mills, Cooking Matters Program Manager at Gleaners Community Food Bank:
Cooking Matters for Families teaches children and their parents about healthy eating as a family and the importance of working together to plan and prepare healthy meals on a budget. We believe that the message of planning, preparing and cooking meals together is something that is not necessarily reinforced elsewhere. Kids are not learning to cook in school, parents often don’t cook a lot at home or are relying on packaged foods – so Cooking Matters for Families classes allow them the opportunity to see how all family members can be included in this process.
Parents are able to see firsthand how much their kids actually can do to help with planning and preparation of meals. Kids are empowered because they are promoted in the class as valuable to this process. The messages of eating healthy are reinforced because the parents and kids sit down together and eat what they have made. Kids are more willing to try new foods if they’ve helped prepare them and parents see that their kids will eat food that they might not have ever thought to serve.
Kids are more willing to try new foods if they’ve helped prepare them and parents see that their kids will eat food that they might not have ever thought to serve. The caregiver-child pair is then able to take the ingredients home to further reinforce this by preparing the recipe at home for the rest of the family.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
The best lesson learned is working with the adults on a one-on-one basis and showing them exactly what they should be looking for, and letting them know that it is okay that if they do not follow the recommendations all the time – that it is not the end of the world. Cooking Matters definitely emphasizes a small steps approach. We encourage families to incorporate small, sustainable changes to their lifestyle and their approach to eating.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Trying to keep the information at a level that the child and adults can put together without making it to childish and not to overwhelming is challenging. We use many different activities to keep the adult and child engaged. Using hands-on, fun activities such as “Blubber Burger” (shows how much fat in fast foods), “Sugar Overload” (demonstrates amount of sugar in soft drinks and energy drinks) and “Fabulous Fiber” (shows the dietary importance of whole grains) are just a few. By doing these activities the participants can visualize what exactly they need to do to help change to a healthy eating style.
What really differentiates this program?
Cooking Matters is unique in its educational approach. The classes offer opportunities for hands-on learning. Family members, both adult and child, engage in nutrition activities like reading labels or measuring out the fat content in different fast food meals. They also participate in the preparation of a recipe in every class. The caregiver and child work side by side to prepare the meal and then the class sits down together to eat – emphasizing the importance of the family meal. Then, what is truly unique about Cooking Matters is the families take home the ingredients for whatever is made in class, so they can prepare it again for the entire family. This is further reinforcement of what was learned, but also helps families start to put these habits into practice. By providing the ingredients, we eliminate one barrier to preparing the foods at home.
What are the keys to success for your program?
One key to success is working with the child and the caregiver and teaching them that making healthy decisions should involve the entire family in planning, cooking, shopping and eating together so everyone has input. One key to success is working with the child and the caregiver and teaching them that making healthy decisions should involve the entire family in planning, cooking, shopping and eating together so everyone has input.
Having the chef and nutrition educator give personable experiences in their own lives helps participants see that we all face the same challenges. Providing numerous opportunities for hands on learning throughout the six-week course is another key to the success of Cooking Matters.
What are the historical, societal and personal obstacles families face in eating healthier?
Most families find that knowing “how to cook in a healthy manner” is the biggest obstacle when it comes to eating healthy. Not knowing the nutritional information or where and how to make good choices. Many families are overwhelmed by the nutrition recommendations and information that is available to the general public. Our program offers real, practical ways for families to identify healthy foods. Families also consider time and cost to be factors in preparing healthy meals at home. We break down those barriers by teaching cost comparisons, meal planning, and quick, simple recipes that are healthy and delicious.