SVVSD and Cooking Matters: A Perfect Pair

Article Courtesy of: Wendy McMillan, LiveWell Longmont

It’s Thursday afternoon at Rocky Elementary School. Lunch service is complete; the kitchen work surfaces are cleaned, spotless, and loaded with beautiful, well organized, uniform sets of ingredients, ready for the next round of industry and bustle. Only the next visitors to this school cafeteria are parents, who on this occasion happen to be students and chefs as well. These motivated and enthusiastic parents are participants of a Cooking Matters for Parents program, a 6-week class that meets weekly for two hours, offers nutrition and culinary skills education, and includes free take-home groceries paired with recipes to practice and share at home.

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SVVSD Nutrition Services Director Shelly Allen first began formulating the idea for the class at Rocky Mountain Elementary a year ago, when she and her team began programming for teen parents as part of a grant from Chef Ann Foundation. She developed a partnership with Cooking Matters, a nonprofit whose mission is to combat food insecurity by providing education on eating and preparing healthy meals on a budget. “Seeing the whole program evolve was really exciting,” Allen says. “It was really inspiring to think of all the ways we could explore the potential of this partnership.”

 

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At Rocky Mountain Elementary, there was an issue of food waste. Concerted efforts were being made to consistently offer fresh fruits and vegetables, but substantial amounts were consistently binned. In brainstorming solutions, Allen tried examining the situation from a different perspective. She thought about the changes that took place when teen parents became more confident in their skills and knowledge of healthy meals. “I thought, maybe if we start at home, we can evolve into the cafeteria,” Allen says.

Nutrition Services provides a small donation to support the cost of groceries and also provides Spanish translation. Cooking Matters provides instruction on nutrition essentials, how to plan meals, cook on a budget, and cooking skills.

Each week, class begins with education on a range of nutrition topics along with kitchen tips and tricks for stretching dollars as nutritiously and deliciously as possible for families. The second hour is devoted to hands-on cooking. Everyone goes home with a full bag of groceries with recipe, and are invited to reflect and share feedback the following week. In the fifth week, the class took a field trip to a grocery store, where participants learned how to look for the most cost effective quality, examining labels and observing store layout.

“Our ultimate goal is to nourish our school community by reaching out to whole families. We want to increase parent participation and advocates in school, and build strong relationships.” Allen said.

Next year, Allen hopes to recruit parent champions from the class to volunteer throughout the district, encouraging students in their healthy choices at lunch.