A Recipe for Change
In Massachusetts nearly one in five children lives in a food insecure household. And although food assistance programs like SNAP and WIC increase a household’s access to food, many families still lack the basic nutritional knowledge and cooking skills to make healthy dietary choices.
Alicia McCabe, executive director of Cooking Matters Massachusetts, said, “Just because somebody has access to food doesn’t mean they know what to do with that food.”
Cooking Matters aims to reduce the gap in nutritional knowledge, tackling malnutrition and childhood obesity with practical cooking lessons and basic nutritional guidelines. By participating in specialized classes, families learn skills that will help them cook healthy meals on a limited budget.
“Those skills might be something like how to read the nutrition facts panel or how to maximize their dollars when they are at the grocery store by using unit pricing,” McCabe explained. “Or it might be learning how to chop a vegetable more efficiently or handle food more safely in their kitchens.”
Practical cooking lessons can have an enormous impact on the health of a family. Research has shown that children who regularly do not eat enough nutritious food have a higher level of behavioral, emotional and academic problems, and are more likely to need special education, repeat a grade and not finish high school. The 6-week course offered by Cooking Matters empowers families to plan, cook and eat beneficial meals that have a positive impact on their health.
“Families who seldom used the nutrition facts panel in order to make a choice between foods are now almost always using it,” McCabe stated. “We see a decrease in the frequency in which families are running out of food at the end of the month before they get money to buy more food. What that says to me is that families are learning how to get more food for less money and they’re learning how to maximize whatever food resources they have.”
Cooking Matters partners with community organizations like Head Start centers, after-school programs and local community centers to reach parents, teens and even young children. Although the majority of the programming reaches women, McCabe said, “We have our share of dads.”
McCabe, a former chef in the Boston area, revealed some of her favorite Cooking Matters recipes, including Black Bean and Vegetable Quesadillas with Mango Salsa and Pineapple Carrot Muffins. (They’re fabulous! See the recipe at the end of the article.)
And what dish has been most popular with the class participants?
“Although it’s a very simple recipe, the crowd favorite is our Baked Flake Chicken, which is kind of a healthier, baked version of fried chicken,” McCabe said. After working in local restaurants, McCabe joined Cooking Matters in 2006. When the program applied for and received a cash and in-kind grant from Root Cause in 2012, McCabe served as its representative. If there is one thing that McCabe wants everyone to know about their nutrition, she says it would be this:
Having a healthy diet is less about taking things out of your diet and more about adding things in–adding more whole grains, adding more fruits, adding more vegetables and adding more lean sources of protein. And eating healthfully can be delicious.
Serves 12, 1 muffin per serving
Prep time: 15 minutes ☀ Cook Time: 25 minutes
1 medium carrot
1 cup canned crushed pineapple with juice
1⁄4 cup cold water
3⁄4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon salt spice, or apple pie spice
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or 1/2 cup raisins)
12-cup muffin pan
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Rinse and peel carrot. Shred with a grater. Measure out 3⁄4 cup shredded carrot.
- In a medium bowl, add pineapple with juice, oil, water, vinegar and shredded carrot. Mix with a fork to combine.
- In a large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Blend well with a fork to break up any lumps.
- Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
- If using walnuts or raisins, gently stir in now.
- Coat muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full of batter. Bake on middle rack of oven until muffin tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. About 20-25 minutes.