Program offers healthy cooking tips, and message to share with others
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on July 13, 2014 1:50 AM
During the last session, students of the Cook Smart Eat Smart class held at the Wayne Center enjoy a meal of food they learned to prepare during the class.
Ophelia White thought she knew how to cook, but during a recent Cook Smart Eat Smart class at the Wayne Center, she discovered she was not always making meals the right -- or healthy -- way.
The 29 other people who took the three-week class also learned a few new tricks.
The purpose of the course was not only to give the attendees tips on how to cook, but to encourage them to take what they learned back to their families and churches.
And that's just what Ms. White is doing.
She and members of the women's health ministry at First African Baptist Church have been getting the men at their church to eat turkey barbecue instead of pork, and they've substituted water for calorie-laden sodas and tea.
"It was hard," she said. "The men will say, 'Ophelia, you're having this program, but you're just going to have chips and all that rabbit food.'"
Then she and the other ladies bring out dishes like roasted sweet potatoes, slow cooker taco soup, spoon rolls and even baked Alaska. The men are surprised, happy -- and they do not even know they are eating healthy.
Extension Service consumer sciences agent Christine Smith hosted the multi-week program, which was offered free to participants through an endowment to North Carolina State University.
Not only did the participants get instruction in basic cooking skills, but they got booklets of recipes to take home with them. And they got hands-on experience in preparing some of the dishes. But they had to promise to share it all with others.
Ms. White wanted to teach her church members how to cook healthy because so many of them are trying to work on improving their health. She said more churches should get involved in their members' health this way.
"That's where the body of the people are," she said. "If we know our members are having health problems, we need to help them with healthy eating and cooking and encourage them to move more."
In the past, churches have been mostly involved with their members' spiritual health.
"But it's not just spiritual, but it's also physical and emotional," Ms. White said. "They didn't understand that it takes spiritual, physical and mental components to make a person whole and give God our best and serve him."
Taking lessons learned from Cook Smart Eat Smart back to others is exactly what Mrs. Smith was hoping would happen, especially churches.
"Churches are known for doing a lot of social events and cooking meals, but a lot of times, they are not healthy meals because people just don't know how to do it," she said. "The participants learned how to take some of the things that are unhealthy out of recipes and substitute healthy options."
Mrs. Smith said the basic principals of the program were: Keep it simple; make room for cooking because you can't cook if you have no counter space and your kitchen is cluttered; clean as you go; lay all of your ingredients and equipment out before you start cooking; read the recipe before you start; develop your own style, you don't have to follow a recipe all the time, use it as a guide; go slow and build your cooking skills; trust your instincts for taste, smell and touch, if you don't think your family or church is going to like a flavoring the recipe calls for, then use another; organize your recipes; and find the joy in cooking.
"That's what Cook Smart is all about, helping people find the joy in cooking healthy," Mrs. Smith said.
And that's what George Imrie did. Several months ago, his wife told him she was through cooking and he was on his own when it came to mealtime. That came not too long after his doctor told him that if he didn't show some improvement in his lifestyle, not to bother coming back.
"That was good motivation," Imrie said. "Through this program, I've learned that food can be healthy and tasty. There's some stuff I didn't care for, but the way you prepare it, it can be quite tasty."
Imrie has learned to make a recipe his own. Like the chicken stir-fry to which he added shrimp at home because he likes shrimp. And the meatloaf that he added salsa to one end and barbecue sauce to the other.
"I've learned that it's not that difficult to cook healthy," he said.
Participant Mary Ward-Wooten wanted learn how to cook properly and also how to use healthier ingredients and healthier cooking methods so she could help her church members become healthier, so she took the Cook Smart Eat Smart classes.
"Our Women's Fellowship at New Saint Delight in Mount Olive, wants to do this," she said. "We're trying to start eating healthy because there are so many people who are not eating healthy. And I have learned that just because it's healthy, that doesn't mean it has to taste bad."
Ms. Ward-Wooten said her church has a food bank to give out healthy food and now because she attended Cook Smart Eat Smart, her church members can learn how to prepare it in a healthy manner, too.
Mrs. Smith said she will check with all 30 participants down the road to see with whom they shared their new cooking knowledge.