It's one thing to cook a lovely meal to impress someone, but it takes a different skill set to cook healthy and low cost meals every day of the week for a family.
When I went around the office asking "Did you learn to cook at home when you were young?" the responses were surprising.
"My grandmother taught me. My mother didn't
"No, I watched alot."
"I always like to eat. But I learned at restaurant school. "
"My mother worked."
We're encouraging folks to take a hold of their lives and incorporate healthy eating and exercise as lifestyle. But here's a challenge: How do you get into the head of someone that is trying to figure out how to balance life as a single parent on a fixed income, someone who is bombarded by fast food on every block, corner store, dollar store, gas station... and cooking means boiling hot dogs and heating up ramen noodles in the microwave. Then the SNAP benefits run out after 2 weeks meaning that the next two weeks are food pantry fare.
In this context, a discussion of regular healthy meals on a budget is like a 1950's TV sitcom -- it's just not relevant. Oh, cheap food's not cheap. We're not even talking about the downward spiral of health issues that get added to the mix by eating food devoid of nutrition.
This is where Jeanine Lindhorst shines. She is the Cooking Matters Coordinator at Queens Galley www.queensgalley.org a well-respected, Kingston- based soup kitchen, food pantry and homeless shelter. Cooking Matters "empower families at risk of hunger with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals."
Jeanine brings in chefs, dieticians, nutrition educators for her once a week class which meets for six weeks. She's happy to work with anyone who wants to learn: families, adults, teens, children, young parents.
When I asked her what kinds of meals they prepared, she exclaimed: "I start with Barley Jambalaya! Yes, it goes a long way. It bulks up, and is filling and a good value. I show them the barley close up before and after it's cooked." And she delves into healthy tacos made with spinach andground turkey meat with a homemade spice mix.
Education is the key to create real and lasting change and Jeanine, through this program, is making a change by teaching the basics. They use the gardens at Queens Galley. She includes a discussion of the colors of the foods, reds, blues, purples, and what they are good for, taste vs. flavors, using safety knives, and the technique for teaching proper hand washing she picked up from one of our CCE educators. She discusses taste vs. flavors, and the fact that when children cook it, they own it, and very likely love it. She takes students to stores to explain label reading, unit pricing and how to shop for fruit and veggies without bruising the produce. "We have to treat food respectfully. You have to test it, feel it with the palm of your hand or the whole hand...gently. If you bruise it, it can't be sold, and that's not fair to the shopkeepers," she explains.
She loves to incorporate lively props for demonstrations to keep the younger ones engaged, like a grain costume she had made with burlap. She laughed explaining the germ prop attached with velcro, and the husk, an outer layer which gets peeled down. She enjoys the excitement of the kids when they "get it."
When I asked her about her background and food, she gave a hearty laugh, and explained that she knew what was in every brand of every TV dinner you could imagine. Her mom was a nurse, but didn't cook. "My friends that knew me growing up can't believe that I'm actually teaching this!"
We discussed the importance of dignity and respect when you are dealing with the public and hunger issues and how free food distribution systems are just stopgap measures. It's a long-term systems change to educate someone about the value of cooking fresh healthy food -- and that we're striving for. I'm glad to say that it's her compassion that makes her nutrition education so valuable and effective. So thank you Jeanine.
For more information on the national program
go to: http://cookingmatters.org
For referals to the Queens Galley Cooking Matters classes contact Jeanine at NoKidHungry@gmail.com