Read Part 1 - the first day of my Cooking Matters Bloggy Boot Camp experience last week
Read Part 2 - my experience with the Cooking Matters Boot Camp here
Part 3 - discussing the Cooking Matters class I took back in Chicago
I have really loved getting to know about Cooking Matters. I wish there were more opportunities closer to me (Hello, Northern Illinois Food Bank!) so that I could get involved. I'd really love to teach the classes actually. I did my best not to pipe in too much yesterday during the cooking portion, but what can I say, I love to cook and teach people how to do so. Actually, the wee ones asked me to do some cooking classes for their friends this summer, which I may yet do.
That said, it was really interesting to see the differences between the focuses of the programs in Dallas - and from what I understand most locations in the US - and the Chicago Cooking Matters program. As the Chicago one is affiliated with a health center, the focus there tends to be less on learning healthy food habits and finding ways to stretch the food from any food stamps or items from food pantry that the class participant receives and more on eating healthfully for medical reasons - to get off meds or reduce weight and the like. That's no less valid a goal or reason by any stretch, just a difference that I found interesting.
The Cooking Matters Americorps Member Kristen Nachtwey who taught the class I attended graciously agreed to answer many of the questions I had about the program in Chicago.
The person who attends the classes varies greatly, as there are several different types of programs offered at various sites throughout the city. They offer adult classes in English and Spanish, classes for teens, kids, families, parents of young children and young parents. The average adult participant is usually female. They see very few males in class, usually one or 2 at most. Participants are usually overweight or obese, often recently diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure or have it in the family (as they are partnered with a health center, which is where they get the majority of their referrals for class), and most are low income.
The majority of the participants genuinely are concerned about their health and want to change it. They seem to be very appreciative and ask great questions and for the most part are great to have in class. Occasionally you get those who are only there for the free meal.
Within the class, "I always just try to stress awareness of new food and that everything is ok in moderation (learning the meaning of moderation helps, too). Also I spend a lot of time explaining that diets don't usually work; it comes down calories in and calories out. The biggest lessons learned for participants are label reading, the importance of whole grains, and how to include more vegetables into items most of them are already making or a healthier spin on a standard recipe," according to Kristen.
In her mind the most beneficial part of the program is that, it is a unique program that incorporates nutrition with cooking. "I believe that cooking for yourself and family has a huge impact on health and nourishment. There are many nutrition programs out there that can teach you everything about eating healthy, but it's the how that matters. Learning how to include new health behaviors or modify old ones is key," she explains.
At the end of the class, participants take a survey, and they report eating more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and low fat meat and dairy. Many of them also report trying the recipes at home and with family - which of course is the goal of the program.
Kristen talked about a woman in one of the family classes that was very skeptical, but at the last class she shared that her family had tried almost half of the recipes in the book and had made cooking as a family a regular activity. She also enjoyed her food, paying attention to every bite and eating with family members at least 2 times a week. "I'm not sure if there was any weight loss, but the fact that she had started cooking instead of eating out makes a huge difference, and I'm sure the weight will follow. Also another common success story is participants giving up soda and fast food and also making a habit of sitting down at the table with the family," Kristen shared. I would have to think that hearing these kinds of success stories really keeps everyone going and excited about the program.
I wish that there were classes in the suburbs (did I mention that yet, Northern Illinois Food Bank?) Unfortunately due to their resource constraints, Cooking Matters is only in the city of Chicago. They do frequently get asked to offer classes in the suburbs, so there is an interest and need there!
A big issue not just for us on a daily basis but also for the Cooking Matters program is the rapidly rising cost of food. To combat this, "we practice what we preach: buying items on sale or in season and cooking with beans (they're cheap). Also, we recently received a food donation from ConAgra and Jimmy Dean, which help of course," stated Kristen.
On a side note, summer is approaching, which ironically has a huge impact on hunger - especially childhood hunger - even though food would seem to be more plentiful because it's warm and food is growing. Around 85% of CPS students receive free or reduced lunch at school, so during the summer a large percentage of these students are not getting their meals. Because the Chicago Cooking Matters program is partnered with a health center rather than the majority that are partnered with a food bank, the programs offered at their locations aren't able to do anything to assist with this (again - Northern Illinois Food Bank? I'd love to see you partner with Cooking Matters!).
That said, Cooking Matters in Chicago is planning to do several summer session for kids with the park district. "I think a big part is letting the parents/kids know where they can go to pick up the meals in the summer, especially if their schools are not offering summer school," Kristen explained.
So what can you do? I asked Kristen where they need help. "Ahh, everywhere! No we really need volunteers during the day (chefs, nutritionist, class assistants). We also just need help with volunteer management and of course fund raising!" As with every charitable organization these days, the biggest issue facing the Cooking Matters program in Chicago is short staffing and a lack of funds. They run all the programs and the office with two and a half people - yikes! They are always always looking for people to get involved. You can email Kristen at nnhscofl (at) nmh (dot) org, and she will inform you about the next volunteer orientation.
And after all this, I have something to share with you, too. I have one Cooking Matters gift bag to share with a reader. The gift bag includes a $50 Wal-Mart gift card, a Cooking Matters Family Course Book, a ConAgra Foods tote bag, a Cooking Matters tote bag, a Cooking Matters water bottle,
Cooking Matters measuring cups, a Cooking Matters cutting board, a Cooking Matters pot holder, a Cooking Matters calculator, a Cooking Matters magnet and button, a Cooking Matters balloon, and a ConAgra Foods coupon booklet. Lots of fun stuff, and can I suggest using the the gift card to purchase some food items to try out some of the recipes included in the Cooking Matters Family Course Book?
So what do you have to do to win? First of all, let me stress that you must follow all the rules. If you do not follow the rules, your entry will not count!
This contest is open until Wednesday June 15 at 7pm CST. I must have a valid way to reach you, so leave me your email address in your comment or be sure your profile has your email address visible. No duplicate comments will count. This giveaway is open to US residents age 18 and older. Winners will be selected via random.org and must respond within 48 hours of being notified by me or I will select a new winner.
Mandatory Entry: Tell me - why does cooking matter to you?
Bonus Entries (leave a comment for each entry - if you put it all in one comment, I'll count it as one entry):
1) Earn one additional entry for following me on Twitter and tweeting this contest with the following tweet: "Win a $50 Wal-Mart GC and a Cooking Matters gift bag from @honestandtruly http://bit.ly/mQGl0c #CookingMatters" (leave a link to your tweet as your comment and make sure you do all the steps!)
2) Earn one additional entry by following this review blog publicly via Google Friend Connect.
3) Earn one additional entry by following my “regular” blog Honest & Truly! publicly via Google Friend Connect.
4) Like my blog on Facebook and let me know what name you used to like it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was provided with some of the items in the gift bag (the tote bags, calculator, measuring cups, cutting board, etc but not the gift card) as a thank you from ConAgra Foods Foundation. I was also compensated by the ConAgra Foods Foundation for my participation in the Bloggy Boot Camp and the posts I've written. That said, all opinions expressed remain my own.