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Teach a man to cook: Pine River program teaches healthy cooking, eating

"We are really trying to get people to focus on a healthy lifestyle," said Samantha Barron, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) nutrition educator with the University of Minnesota Extension office. "That's the shortest way to say it. Healthy eating, healthy food prep, gardening, growing fruits and vegetables. In my classes we do a little physical activity, but most things focus on healthy eating and cooking." PineandLakes.com Illustration

Families looking for help feeding their families healthy foods have options in the Pine River area.

Since 2016, representatives from Happy Dancing Turtle, Head Start, the Pine River-Backus Family Center and the University of Minnesota Extension Service have been attempting to solve food insecurity issues locally through education.

"We are really trying to get people to focus on a healthy lifestyle," said Samantha Barron, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) nutrition educator with the University of Minnesota Extension office. "That's the shortest way to say it. Healthy eating, healthy food prep, gardening, growing fruits and vegetables. In my classes we do a little physical activity, but most things focus on healthy eating and cooking."

Each person who enters the program, called "Whole Health," receives a three-ring binder. The front of the binder includes nutrition information and guidelines; the next section has information on physical activity; and the final section is all about recipes.

Each person in the program also receives weekly shares from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which includes seasonal healthy produce from the Happy Dancing Turtle campus.

"It's similar to Lakewood's Choose Health program, with the biggest difference being Lakewood's is pretty much run through the hospital," Barron said. "Ours is community-based and community-driven. The main partners are Happy Dancing Turtle - they provide the CSAs; the family center has helped with the recruiting along with Head Start; and The Warehouse, which provided space. I, with Extension, have done a lot with the education component of the program."

These educational programs are growing in popularity in several counties. Morrison County has a program called Eat Smart, and Long Prairie offers the Centracare BLEND program.

Programs are becoming popular with families who use food programs. Lakewood Health's Choose Health program, which was an inspiration for Whole Health, has nearly 100 participants. In Pine River, the group this year grew from 10 to 15.

The program is a guide to healthy eating and covers as many bases as possible, including gardening, shopping healthy, reading labels and preparing healthy food. The classes are mainly offered to low-income families, and as such the lessons are often designed for the whole family.

"We are focusing on more family-oriented cooking classes like safe knife handling, healthy sense (how to shop healthy on a budget)," Barron said. "It isn't cooking, but it is healthy eating on a budget."

The program is promoted through the Pine River-Backus Family Center, Head Start and Happy Dancing Turtle. It has no cost to the participating families thanks to grant funding.

The first session of the year started the second week in June and runs through mid-July. Participants meet at The Warehouse from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays or 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays. They all work together to make one recipe in their three-ring binders, based on the ingredients available from the CSA that week.

"I let them break off and do most of the cooking while I continue discussion with them in the kitchen," Barron said. "Most of the time I have them cook the meal themselves to get that practice. When it's all done we serve it up and talk about what they like about it, what they don't like about it or what they would change."

Those who want to receive the CSA must commit to a series of cooking classes. Optionally, others who do not want the CSA can still participate in classes if they think it will teach them to handle food better.

Barron also does food demonstrations once a month at the farmers market, along with Pine River farmers market tours to encourage use of healthy, local foods.

For more information, visit extension.umn.edu/family or call Barron at 218-587-8287.

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