Cooking Matters Massachusetts Program Empowers At-risk Families

An estimated 15{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of Americans are now living in poverty, and nearly one in five children’s families lack the necessary resources to provide the nutritious food they need to thrive. Cooking Matters Massachusetts is a new program being provided locally through Berkshire North WIC and Berkshire County Head Start that empowers local families at risk of hunger with the skills, knowledge, and confidence they need to make healthy and affordable meals through a six-week program, Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters http://cookingmatters.org/.

Cooking Matters courses are led by local volunteer culinary and nutrition experts who combine hands-on food preparation with practical nutrition, food budgeting, and shopping techniques.

When Susan Antil, director of Berkshire North Women, Infants and Children (WIC) heard about the program, she volunteered as the culinary instructor. She has successfully combined her experience working with WIC mothers and her culinary passion to create an open and inviting atmosphere for the adults that attend, and works with WIC staff members Allyse Wiencek and Michelle Sylvester to provide the program.

“It’s really nice to be able to connect with our WIC parents outside of our office and in this type of positive atmosphere,” said Antil. “I love being able to cook with them and share ideas back and forth about healthier ways of feeding families.”

Sponsored nationally by the ConAgra Foods® Foundation and Wal-mart, the program now serves more than 1,000 families per month, and in 2010 reached more than 10,000 families across the country. In 2011, more than 800 participants graduated from the Cooking Matters program in Massachusetts and in 2012 the program plans to reach over 1200 families. Nearly 90{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of participants report improving their cooking skills after graduating from a Cooking Matters course.

“Working with Share Our Strength to provide Cooking Matters classes is helping families in our community gain the skills and confidence they need to eat better and meet their budgetary needs,” said Jessica Maillet, registered dietitian and Cooking Matters Central/Western Mass. manager. “By engaging in this work, we have the ability to evoke sustainable behavior change related to food purchasing and consumption practices at kitchen tables in our region.”

“The recession has impacted families across the country, including those in all of Massachusetts,” said Janet McLaughlin, national director of Cooking Matters. “Cooking Matters Massachusetts is a valuable community resource that helps local families at risk of hunger. Cooking Matters Massachusetts has outstanding chefs, nutritionists, and other community members who volunteer their skills and expertise, and more support is needed to help meet the high demand for these courses.”

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