This week marked the end of our last six-week Cooking Matters course. Taught in conjunction with Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the weekly classes were taught in English and Spanish, and focus on healthy eating on a budget...our patients are raving about all they have learned! Each class focused on a different area: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and putting together a healthy meal on a budget. Part of each class is nutritional instruction -- where the instructor and patients discuss the nutritional content of the meals, -- and the second part is the practical cooking skills needed for each meal, including food and equipment safety. "Patients really appreciate the class," says Alliance's Wellness Program Coordinator Carina Saavedra. "They want to eat healthier and have recipes that enable them to cook fast, healthy meals for their families. This class really empowers people to make positive changes in their lives."
Alliance patient and Cooking Matters student Gail Johnson couldn't agree more. "I'm so glad I went to the class! I was really struggling with my diabetes, and had tried a number of medications at Dr. Lewis' suggestion. My blood sugar level was over 300; now, after the class and making changes to my cooking and eating habits, my sugar level is, on average, 90, sometimes 80." Gail says she is loving cooking again, and looks forward to her dinners each day. "The biggest change I've made is that I'm now very aware of what I'm eating, when I'm eating it. The hardest time is from 7:00 until bedtime. If I want to snack then, I eat seedless grapes, raisins, or whole wheat crackers."
The grocery store tour is one of the highlights of the class. Wellness Program Coordinator Carina Saavedra says that the students "learn things you don't even think to learn about. The tour is broken down into sections of the grocery store. We talk about how the store is set up, why it's important to buy around the perimeter where the fresh foods are, and why they should steer clear of the center aisles, where more junk foods and expensive packaged foods are located." Gail says the information learned at the tour has stuck with her. "When I go to the grocery store now, I shop the perimeter of the store. I get to the check out, and there's no Hamburger Helper, no boxed food...all veggies!"
The tour included reviews of the canned and prepackaged foods. "We look at the convenience items, like prepackaged salad, and talk about the price benefits of buying a head of lettuce or unpackaged spinach. We compared fresh produce to canned and frozen produce, and packaged meats compared to other lean proteins like beans and eggs and Greek yogurts. We talk how confusing the labels can be for wheat, and learned that if it's not '100% whole grain', it's not actually whole grain," says Carina. At the end of the store tour is the '$10 challenge', where each person must create a meal for a family of four using at least three of the food groups, under $10, using healthy ingredients. "The patients got so creative! One dinner example used tortillas, salad, beans, peppers and onions. Another was a stir fry with pasta squash, zucchini, onion and white beans."
Gail's eating and cooking habits have changed dramatically. "In the beginning of the class, they tell you to 'eat the rainbow'; well, my rainbow was brown and white, all meat and potatoes. Now I'm enjoying cooking fresh and frozen vegetables for dinner. I've almost completely cut out red meat; I mainly eat fish and chicken. One of the biggest changes I've made is that I've probably cut out 3/4 of the salt I use to use, and have been using seasonings. Chef Kevin told us about using Nature's Seasoning, Mrs. Dash, and olive oil. I've been doing that, and it's working. I'm not craving salt anymore!"
At graduation, patients received a certification of completion, and take home a 'Cooking Matters' cookbook, take-home grocery bag, meat thermometer, cutting board, and notebook for their own recipes. Congratulations to all who participated!