Cooking Matters for better health
As their garlic mingles with roasting vegetables and whole-wheat pasta heats on the stove, a dozen participants in Cooking Matters move from the kitchen to a conference room. There, a University of Minnesota Extension Supplemental Nutrition Program Education (SNAP-Ed) educator reinforces some tried-and-true nutritional principles, while debunking others.
Take vegetables. True, fresh is preferable. But fresh produce isn’t always available and affordable. “Substituting frozen is just fine,” says the educator, Sharmyn Phipps. “If you’re using canned, rinse the veggies in a colander first to get rid of salt. It’s a great way to help reduce our risk of high blood pressure.”
That’s the scene taking place throughout Minnesota as Cooking Matters enters its ninth year in the state. The program brings together volunteer chefs and community partners to help deliver cooking-based instruction that emphasizes healthy choices, flavorful recipes and cost-effective shopping. At this class, taught in the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach Center (UROC) in north Minneapolis, Extension comes together with Health Commons at the Living Room, a community health collaboration between the University’s Medical School, Fairview Community Health and the Redeemer Center for Life.
“Since I’ve been in Cooking Matters, I’ve learned to substitute freshness whenever possible,” said Bertha McKinney, community liaison from Health Commons. “And there are so many practical ways to reduce salt from our diets.”
Down the hall at UROC, Extension community nutrition educator Joyce McGee-Brown leads younger children in a healthy snack-making lesson. Nutrition principles suited to their age run parallel to Cooking Matters content.
“Even the kids are learning and they can learn at this age to make good choices about food,” said McKinney, herself a former Cooking Matters participant.
It’s a popular class, one that often requires waiting lists for subsequent sessions; to date, it’s been offered in 57 out of Minnesota’s 87 counties. In 2016, Extension coordinated 105 six-week courses for 1,165 participants; the program is projected to exceed last year’s participation by 25 percent. Another offering, Cooking Matters at the Store, served 905 Minnesota adults last year with a one-time course through which low-income adults learn to make healthy choices and stretch their food-buying resources.
Nationally, Cooking Matters classes are funded by private donations and the federal SNAP-Ed program and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). In Minnesota, donors can make a gift to Cooking Matters through Extension.