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Educators Help Low-Income Cooks Improve Skills

Alan Levine
Flickr Creative Commons
Butternut Squash

Some people on government assistance find it hard to stretch their food to the end of the month. But there are more and more educators who teach low income individuals how to get more for their money.

Tasha Johnson runs Dayton Christian Center. She noticed that some children from low income families would come to the center’s daycare program with not-so-nourishing food.

"I would see children come in in the morning with bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and red punch in their bottles and things that are really not healthy for children. And just through observation, ‘You know, if this is what their children are coming in with, then I know absolutely that this is what they’re eating at home.’ And that’s a problem," Johnson says.

So she set out to change things.

"Part of my heart’s desire was to really be able to teach healthy cooking, healthy eating, and how to do it on a shoestring budget or within the constraints of the food assistance program that many of our families are able to participate in," Johnson says.

She enlisted the aid of Dayton area Chef Anthony Head who held weekly classes for the parents of the children enrolled at the center.

"The families that participated, they were amazed at how they could really stretch their dollars. For example, Chef Head brought in a sirloin steak. So he took that one piece of meat and made it work for that whole family," Johnson says.

People know how to cook says Chef Head, but they may not know how to do it wisely.

"The gap between what people know now and what they were usually taught by their parents, 20, 30 years ago, is what Mom did – it’s that love in the kitchen. But cooking very much is a technical skill," says Head.

The classes which were funded by a grant are over, but Chef Head still hears from participants who say they’ve learned how to stretch their dollars and their food.

"We’re eating better, chef, we’re eating healthier, my budget has been extended, we’re having good meals throughout the end of the month, but what I want them to hear is, with limited resources, by stretching that budget out with attention and skills that I share with you, you may not have everything you want but having a refrigerator full of food is pretty important," says Head.

From time to time, Ohio State extension offers nutritional classes. Lynette Brown is an OSU extension educator in Summit County.

"We deal with nutrition, making better choices, learning how to stretch your food dollars; it’s all in the curriculum," Brown says.

Brown says she’s also observed instances where there’s a lack of cooking knowledge.

"I can give someone a zucchini and they say thank you very much. If they’ve never had a zucchini or never cooked with a zucchini it will simply rot and be thrown away because they don’t know what to do with it," she says.

Chef Head is concerned with the rise in obesity. He wants to instruct people on eating better, which, in the end, he says, means better health.

"If we teach these people how to cook, how to shop, and how to prepare these more healthful meals, it has benefits beyond their own personal pocketbooks. It’s the bottom line in terms of skyrocketing health care," he says.