Started in 1993 by Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America, Cooking Matters provides low-income people at risk of hunger with hands-on cooking and nutrition classes led by volunteer professional chefs and nutritionists.
According to Kristen Miale, the program director for Cooking Matters for Maine, the Cooking Matters program is built on the concept that people in America aren’t hungry because there is not enough food, but because they lack access to nutritious food and programs that provide the assistance they need. Here in Maine, the Good Shephard Food Bank is the local partner for Cooking Matters.
Recently, Kristen and her volunteers visited Crossroads for Women’s halfway house to conduct the 6-week Cooking Matters course with our clients. Over the six weeks, the women learned much more than how to cook a meal. While about 60% of the program was cooking, the other 40% was dedicated to nutrition education.
Led by volunteers Chef Tony and Raye, the women learned about food groups, were taught knife skills, and talked about what to look for in the ingredients list when buying food. For example, Kristen talked about how it is often better to purchase ice cream over frozen yogurt. While frozen yogurt has the perception of being more healthy, it also contains more chemicals. Ice cream, on the other hand, tends to have more natural ingredients.
The Cooking Matters group also took a field trip to the local grocery store to take a tour and learn new ways to shop. They learned how to do meal planning, shop by unit pricing and stick to a budget while also choosing healthy foods.
Of course, there was also lots of good cooking. They made all of their dishes from scratch. Some of the dishes included granola, Chinese stir fry with brown rice, quesadillas, apple crisp with a caramel sauce and fruit smoothies. The women at the halfway house went into the program with varying cooking skills, some being quite high. All said that they learned a lot from the program and enjoyed being able to ask questions of a professional chef and nutritionist.
At the end of the program, the “graduates” received a certificate, a knife and cutting board, and a Cooking Matters book with recipes and instruction. Most importantly, they learned skills that they will use when they leave Crossroads for Women and start their lives in recovery.