NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Spending less than $10 on the ingredients for a meal to feed four people, choosing the right beverages to avoid added sugar, preparing meals using general frameworks instead of recipes — these are some of the lessons the 23 participants in the six-week Cooking Matters program learned from Stephen F. Austin State University School of Human Sciences students.
The SFA students served as recruiting officers, nutrition educators, chef instructors, classroom managers and cleanup crew for Cooking Matters, which is a partnership between the School of Human Sciences and the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler. The program is designed to help curb high levels of food insecurity in East Texas.
“With the Nacogdoches poverty rate at 30.9%, Cooking Matters provides SFA students with a transformative experience by helping them apply their classroom knowledge and intertwine it with a community program,” said Justin Pelham, the food, nutrition and dietetics clinical instructor who teaches SFA’s Community Nutrition class.
Kacey Creel, a food, nutrition and dietetics senior from Madisonville, presented cooking and nutrition lessons to the participants.
“Students should get involved as much as they can with organizations that serve the community,” Creel said. “Seeing how much of an impact we were making in the participants’ lives through teaching them how to cook and how to implement healthier options showed me how necessary it is for us to reach out to our community.”
While SFA students developed their leadership and oral and written communication skills, Cooking Matters participants honed their grocery shopping and cooking skills. At the end of each class, they received a bag of groceries with the items prepared during the lessons that day to cook the same dish at home and reinforce their learning.
One of the participants, Jeanette Duckworth of Nacogdoches, said, “The SFA students were wonderful. They helped me change my eating habits. I hope they create a Cooking Matters 102 to build on what we learned in Cooking Matters 101.”
In its fifth year, the program generated enough interest for two classes, one at SFA and one at the Helping Other People Eat Pantry in Nacogdoches. Many of the participants heard about the program from SFA faculty members and students volunteering at Jo’s Diner, a soup kitchen at HOPE Pantry that serves meals to those in need.
For the Cooking Matters Nov. 11 graduation ceremony and potluck at the HOPE Pantry, participants made their own healthy dishes to share and enjoyed food prepared by student chefs on the Lumberjack Express, SFA’s mobile food lab.
Participants said they were grateful not only for their new nutrition and cooking skills but also for the social bonds they created during the six-week program with both their classmates and the SFA students.
“As this class went on, we attended just as much to visit with people as to learn new recipes,” said Bonnie Park, a participant from San Augustine.
After graduation, the participants hugged the students, swapped contact information and headed to their cars amid shouts of, “Call me if you need some of my soup!”