Out of all the ways that we can manage our health, consuming fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on a daily basis seems like a no-brainer. But shopping for whole foods—especially on a tight budget—is difficult for the majority of America, including patients at Erie Family Health Center, The health center, which serves 70,000 patients a year at 13 health centers spanning the west side of Chicago to Waukegan, has been in the business of illness prevention for nearly 60 years. Their approach in patient wellness also addresses critical factors that affect health, such as diet.
That’s where the Cooking Matters program comes in. The program “Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters” was launched by an organization that teaches volunteers across the nation to lead a six-week healthy cooking class. Since 1993 thousands of volunteer teachers have taught more than 265,000 low-income families learn how to eat more mindfully and nutritiously without exceeding their budget.
Patients at Erie are referred to the Cooking Matters program so they learn cooking skills, how to read nutrition labels on food packaging, and new recipes. Before passing the course, the class takes a field trip to a local grocery store. Then, they use the information they’ve learned throughout the past six weeks to pull together a hearty meal for four people—on a $10 budget.
Lauren Fifarek, a health educator who leads the Cooking Matters classes at one of Erie’s sites describes how even the smallest changes in diet can be crucial to achieving overall wellness. “Eating in season, eating fruits and vegetables that are on sale, buying fruits canned in 100% fruit juice—these are all ways to shop smart and feel better,” she said.
This past year, one patient in Lauren’s class made a big impression. He was homeless, and had nowhere to store the food he made in class. Lauren and Erie staff worked together to ensure the patient received resources, such as transportation, helping with housing, and a job.
“He was just so grateful for the class and the support and interaction he received from the group,” she said. “He reminded me that it really takes a tribe to influence people and make positive changes.”Print this story