10314661_662377063816345_2676632035210845905_nBy Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

If you’re a true Louisianian, then you are certainly familiar with the term “makin’ groceries!” But in this day and age, we are increasingly aware that grocery shopping is more complex than we ever imagined. It’s no longer about just tossing into the basket whatever tastes good and fills up the family. Today, sure, it’s about taste. But also, health. Calories. Freshness…

And bringing all those elements together in one shopping trip? That can be difficult. That’s why we are so impressed with our Fresh Beginnings  partners (a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana  supported wellness initiative) who, last year, launched Cooking Matters for Families. A series of six-week courses, led by a team of nutritionist experts from LSU and Southern University Agricultural Center, offers moms, dads, grandmas, kids — anyone with an interest, frankly — nutrition tips, cooking classes and grocery store management skills.

We recently talked to Lyndsi Lambert, project director for Fresh Beginnings, about the program. Earlier this month, Cooking Matters wrapped up its spring 2015 course with a grocery shopping excursion through the aisles of a local Walmart. Forty participants signed up for this season’s session, Lambert said.

10337760_662377060483012_1221448863629921713_n Lambert:

When we started Fresh Beginnings, we took two approaches — food access and health education.  As time passed, we realized, you can create healthy food access, but what do people do after they purchase that product? They’ve never seen these produce items, let alone prepared any of it before. So, we spoke to community members and realized they were really interested in cooking classes. I’d already come across the Cooking Matters program and quickly found out that New Orleans organized the classes in their city. I observed their classes and was just sold on the program. 

“So we started our own Cooking Matters last spring. So it’s already been a year. And this spring, we had 40 participants.
“The purpose of the program is to equip families with the skills they need to buy, prepare and eat healthy meals that can feed a family of four for about $10.  We’ve had entire families participate, sometimes just the adults, sometimes caregivers. A lot of times it’s grandmothers with their daughters and grandkids. We really wanted the program to be for the whole family because the feedback we got from our partners in New Orleans is that Cooking Matters for kids is great, but ultimately it’s the parents who buy the food and prepare it. The best approach is to then get the kids involved in the preparation. 
 “Each program is six weeks. There are discussions about what are whole grains, ways to stay away from high sugar drinks, how to incorporate more vegetables, there are cooking segments and taste tests. And then one class includes a grocery tour. We meet in the grocery section of the local Walmart, which is the national sponsor for the Cooking Matters program. And we discuss nutritional differences between things like fresh, frozen and canned, we take time to really read nutrition labels…  I caught one conversation, for example, about ice cream, talking about sizes, like buying a pint versus a gallon, or, even better, just buying those little cups we usually buy for a kid’s birthday party. It’s common sense things like realizing if you buy smaller sizes, you are more likely to eat less. 
“When our participants complete the course, we  make a big deal about it. We want it to feel like an accomplishment. So we have graduation bags that include a cutting board, a meat thermometer, a cook book, measuring cups and we hand out graduation certificates. DSCN2296
“So far, we have gotten a lot of positive feedback. One that stands out was a woman who was working with her doctor to lower her diabetes medication and she really worked with us to help her make changes in her diet, particularly reducing sugary drinks. Another one of our parents told us that before the classes, her son would not eat anything green. Now he is open to at least trying new vegetables at home. So that’s a really good jumping off point. And we do a lot of reminding parents to be mindful that they are constantly modeling for their child. For example, we stress to our parents who don’t like broccoli — use other words aside from gross!

“Sadly, our Challenge Grant funding ends August 31. But we’ve already identified partners interested in keeping the program going and maintaining the classes. Our LSU partners are certainly interested, for example, and we’re in conversations with others to see if it’s a good fit for them!

And that’s what we love hearing about most — programs we had a hand in rolling out, now set to keep on rolling and growing. Kudos to our Fresh Beginnings partners for launching this amazing program. And for more information, check in with our Fresh Beginnings leaders at Healthy BR!

DSCN2205[1] DSCN2228[1] DSCN2178[1]