NACOGDOCHES, Texas –– Stephen F. Austin State University’s School of Human Sciences and the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler are partnering in an effort to help curb high levels of food insecurity in East Texas through a six-week Cooking Matters program. 

Since 1993, the Cooking Matters campaign has taught families and caregivers with limited food budgets to shop for and cook healthy meals. This is the sixth year the university has partnered with the food bank to provide the informative and interactive program to the community. 

The East Texas Food Bank is a nonprofit organization that distributes food to more than 200 partner agencies in an effort to feed children, the working poor and seniors throughout 26 counties in East Texas. 

Justin Pelham, food, nutrition and dietetics clinical instructor at SFA, uses the national program as an opportunity for his SFA students to practice their newfound skills in a real-world environment. 

“The Cooking Matters program serves dual purposes for SFA students and the Nacogdoches community,” Pelham said. “Students get to practice real-world applications within a national program to help build their hard and soft skills. People in the community benefit, too, as these services are completely free, and each person walks away with added nutrition knowledge, hands-on cooking instruction and a free bag of groceries or incentives each week.”

According to Pelham, data indicates one-in-three people in Nacogdoches live in poverty. The Cooking Matters program is student led, with students rotating through different job roles during the six-week classes. Series participants will be Nacogdoches residents or those receiving services from the Helping Other People Eat Pantry in Nacogdoches. 

The class will provide a 30 to 45-minute component of hands-on nutrition education with a designated topic. Then, this information is translated into the kitchen to make a meal that is budget mindful and incorporates whole foods, herbs and spices. 

Kinsey Jeffers, nutrition education manager with the East Texas Food Bank, along with her colleague, Alexis Hernandez, spoke to Pelham’s class via Zoom on Monday. 

“Cooking Matters has a number of recipes that are healthy and budget friendly, so each week of the first four weeks participants will prepare a meal together, and essentially assign each person a task or two to help contribute to that recipe,” Jeffers said. “Then, participants eat the meal together, and whatever is made in class, every participant will be sent home with the ingredients to make that meal.”

In the final two weeks of the program, participants will take part in a grocery store tour and challenge where they are given a $10 gift card and asked to find ingredients for a meal to feed four people with all five food groups represented. The sixth week will be a celebration potluck. 

The program will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. for six consecutive Mondays from Oct. 4 through Nov. 8 at the Human Sciences North Building, Room 201, on the SFA campus.

For more information, contact Pelham at (936) 468-5892 or