Cooking and eating, the healthy way
Taisha Rodriguez learned aplenty at the five-week ‘Cooking Matters’ program at Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments.
There were the tips on shopping wisely, including noting information on salt, sugar, artificial coloring and of course, portion size and calories. And there were the healthy recipes that were tried out and tasted during the weekly sessions.
What made the time spent so rewarding was the bonding, and sharing of food experience among the dozen women who faithfully attended with instructor Jesse Mushenko from Cooking Matters Massachusetts.
“I loved this program,” said Rodriguez, a mother of four who is always looking for ways to entice her children to eat foods that will keep them growing, and healthy.
“I wish it lasted longer. There was so much to it, and it was so much fun just cooking and talking together about how we shop and eat. I didn’t miss a single class,” she added.
Cooking Matters helps families to shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget, as part of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.
The weekly classes at Sullivan were courtesy Talk/Read/Succeed!, the family-centric early literacy program that is in its seventh year, involving several local agencies, including SHA, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, the Springfield School Department, the Springfield Teachers Association, and Behavioral Health Network.
T/R/S! involves families at two SHA developments, Sullivan and Robinson Gardens, and their feeder elementary schools, Boland and Dorman. Children get literacy programs including summer learning and trips to area museums. Parents get things like education, job training, and other events to enrich the home life, such as Cooking Matters.
T/R/S! Outreach Coordinator Zenaida Burgos said the program was even more successful than she expected, with the Community Room at Sullivan lively with the sounds of cooking, discussions and healthy eating every Wednesday afternoon for the duration of the program.
Her goal was to share with participating residents not just the importance of eating in a healthy manner, but how to do so. Cooking Matters covered shopping, food label analysis, and preparing and cooking good meals that children and adults love.
Among the items shared in the classes were fruit granola with yogurt, veggie wraps, black bean quesadillas and frittatas. To quench the thirst, the class made jars of water infused with fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“It gave them a different perspective of learning how to use different herbs, and different kinds of vegetables that they might not be accustomed to cooking with,” Burgos said.
“Also, it allowed them to form new friendships by working together with different residents here at the housing authority,” she noted.
Burgos said they shared shopping and cooking tips with one another, and asked many questions of Mushenko and his volunteer, Adam Rodriguez. At the end of each session, participants were able to each take home a bag filled with ingredients needed to make the recipes from that day.
“They were able to cook the same food at home and enjoy it with their families,” Burgos said.
Participants like Misty Gilley said the classes were time well spent.
“I like cooking anyway, so this was great for me,” she said. “I got quite a few new recipes, and we learned a lot about nutrition.”
Participants learned things like how much sugar is in a variety of carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, and how to read labels in the grocery store with an eye towards keeping sugar, salt and chemical additives to a minimum.
Mushenko said the class as Sullivan drew a crowd of great people, and he was happy to get to know them.
“This group is fantastic,” he said. “The best part of doing classes like this is meeting people where they’re at, budget-wise and taste-wise, and working with that. It was especially fun to work with them right here where they live, Mushenko said.
On the last day of the class, participants went home with certificates and cookbooks fill of tasty, healthy and inexpensive recipes.
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