Associate Program Director, University of Minnesota Extension
A national survey from the anti-hunger group Share Our Strength recently found nearly 80 percent of low- and moderate-income families cook evening meals at least five times per week, and two-thirds said they want to learn more about making healthy food.
That contradicts a commonly-held notion that low-income families often turn to processed or fast food for meals out of preference. The University of Minnesota Extension is responding to the community’s appetite by way of Cooking Matters—a hands-on, cooking-based nutrition education program that teaches low-income families how to prepare healthy and delicious meals on a limited budget.
CeAnn Klug, Associate Program Director at University of Minnesota Extension, helps lead the program. “In my role, I not only get to share my food experiences with others, but I’m also able grow my understanding and appreciation for the food that we eat,” she said.
At the heart of the program is teaching food skills—preparing a recipe, selecting well-balanced and healthy foods at the point of purchase, having the ability to purchase food within your budget, and understanding what is in your food and where it comes from.
“Food skills also involve the logistics of cooking,” CeAnn explains. “It’s important to know how to prepare food that tastes good in a safe and timely way. It’s also about having the confidence to take that first step to prepare or eat something new. Another side of food skills is a familiarity with your local food system.”
Healthy Food Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
Due to the success of Cooking Matters, CeAnn and her team have expanded the program outside of the classroom, and into the grocery store. In collaboration with Minnesota Alliance of YMCAs, Cooking Matters has increased its facilitation of a program called Cooking Matters at the Store.
“Cooking Matters at the Store is a guided onsite grocery store tour, which is geared toward low-income families,” CeAnn explained. “Tour participants learn how to make healthy food choices while also maximizing their limited resources.”
The University of Minnesota Extension has trained 125 staff and community partners on the Cooking Matters at the Store curriculum, and as a result, has seen an increase in the total number of tour recipients—from 35 participants in 2012 to 524 participants in 2013. Cooking Matters at the Store tours take place in nearly all of Minnesota’s 87 counties. In 2014, tour participation more than doubled to 1,257 total tours.
Empowering Families, Overcoming Barriers
Families on a tight budget report that the cost of healthy groceries is often their biggest barrier to making wholesome meals at home. CeAnn knows this, because as a child her own family struggled to provide healthy meals on a tight budget.
“My family did not receive food stamps, although we probably should have. I’m sure the decision not to apply for food stamps had a lot to do with pride, and the stigma that comes with using any type of government assistance, especially in a place where everyone knows your business,” CeAnn explained.
While her mother did an excellent job with managing the household budget she had, CeAnn remembers her mother rarely, if ever, was able to afford fresh vegetables or fruits. That’s why it’s now CeAnn’s mission to help other families going through the same struggle.
“I’m proud to be doing whatever I can to help ensure that all Minnesotans, especially those who struggle financially, have easy access to healthy foods and the skills needed to select and prepare those foods,” said CeAnn. “It’s not only my job, it is my mission.”