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Cooking Matters for fathers and families

Dads are relaxed in online sessions and kids are trying new foods

Father, son and daughter in their kitchen
Left to right: Raymond, Tim and Gracee Mae McMichael of Detroit Lakes

Nowhere is there a better use of innovative technology for Extension programming than in Detroit Lakes, where Cooking Matters classes are offered via Zoom to members of the Catholic Health Initiative St. Joseph's FATHER Project.

The FATHER (Fostering Actions To Help Earnings and Responsibility) Project, part of Goodwill Easter Seals, helps fathers overcome the barriers that prevent them from supporting their children economically and emotionally.

The online version of Cooking Matters during COVID-19 was conceived by Donna Anderson, University of Minnesota Extension SNAP-Ed* educator based in Hubbard County. She approached FATHER Project Coordinator Joe Johnson about the idea, and he immediately agreed. 

Joe Johson and son Mekiah in the kitchen
Joe Johnson and his son, Mekiah

While the classroom component is different, class structure and lesson plans remain the same with six weekly classes. Most of the students already regularly cook and grill but Cooking Matters provides new recipes and cooking tips, and there are lessons about stretching budgets, portion sizes, physical activity and mental health.

With the help of Tim McMichael, a father taking part in the class, Johnson does the weekly shopping, organizes bags for each family, and leaves groceries and printed recipes for curbside pick-up before class. Johnson facilitates and takes part with his son, Mekiah, and the other dads. "We are a father-son team,” he says.

During the Zoom class, Anderson acts as chef and food safety teacher. Extension SNAP-Ed educators Kathryn Lien, Rosie Gonzalez and Jackie Larson teach the other topics. Students are eager to begin, so their ingredients are prepped and ready to go before class begins. They listen to lessons on nutrition with video on and microphones muted while cooking in their own kitchens. After class, students post images of their creations on Facebook.

“We try to make it silly and fun,” says Anderson, emphasizing that students learn a great deal. The best outcome of online class? “Kids are eating or at least trying new foods,” says Anderson. McMichael’s young daughter was even caught on camera sneaking back into the kitchen to grab an entire quesadilla after trying one bite.

Beans and veggies dish in skillet
After class students post images of their creations on Facebook.

Some dads add items they have on hand to enhance the Cooking Matters recipes, Johnson says.  “We might jazz up the meal, but Donna’s foundation is always there.”

Johnson’s 19-year-old son, Mekiah, wasn’t sure what to expect from the class, but the nervousness went away.  “I love how hands-on class is and you get to work with other people.”

“There are five dads in our class. I feel it’s advantageous to keep our group smaller. I can easily see Donna and all of the participants cooking,” Joe Johnson says. He gets the other participants to buy in to some of the healthier recipes. “They see turkey and beans, no salt. ‘What is this?’ Now they’re calling me, excited for the next group. They’re talking about nutrition and whole grains.”

Using Zoom allows the dads to be active in their children’s lives and cook in a relaxed setting, Johnson says. He stressed that the dads and their families love this time cooking and eating together. “It matters. It’s important.”

*Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education

Illustration: father and boy cutting vegetables
Illustration of father and daughter cooking
Extension SNAP-ed educators Thelma Garcia and Milena Nunez Garcia near a farmers market
Thelma Garcia (left) and Milena Nunez Garcia used to greet participants at the farmers market for their tour, as shown. Now they bring the farmers market tour to their participants via video.

Farmers market tours: A great idea made even better

The fresh, local, healthy foods at farmers markets benefit everyone. But not all of us are familiar with shopping at farmers markets. Thelma Garcia and Milena Nunez Garcia, Extension SNAP-Ed educators, sought to share the experience with their clients. 
The educators used a Cooking Matters at the Store lesson plan to tailor a series of farmers market tours accessible to English, Karen and Spanish speaking participants.

In 2018, Garcia and Nunez Garcia led tours at Albert Lea and Rochester farmers markets, promoting the markets to Albert Lea’s WIC program participants. Every dollar of electronic benefits used at the market is matched up to $10. Participants’ children had opportunities to join POP (Power of Produce) Club, a farmers market incentive program for youth.

Garcia and Nunez Garcia responded with innovation when COVID-19 limited in-person activities worldwide. An idea for video tours, produced with voiceovers in several languages, quickly took off.

“We highlight different fruits and vegetables from different cultures,” says Nunez Garcia. “We want to include everybody, and these videos are for everybody too. We can reach even more people than before.”

Garcia agreed, adding, “If it works for us, the whole state can use the videos to reach many participants. The videos will be very useful even when COVID is over.”

What is Cooking Matters? 

In 2009, University of Minnesota Extension partnered with Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to end hunger and poverty, to bring Cooking Matters to Minnesota. 

Cooking-based courses are taught by a dedicated corps of volunteers, SNAP-Ed educators and EFNEP (Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program) educators. Cooking Matters is one way that Extension helps families struggling with a limited food budget learn how to shop for and prepare healthy, affordable and delicious meals.

Permission is granted to news media to republish our news articles with credit to University of Minnesota Extension. Images also may be republished; please check for specific photographer credits or limited use restrictions in the photo title.

Patrice Johnson, University of Minnesota Extension

Illustrations by Stephanie O'Donnell

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