In Klamath County, 14% of households experience food insecurity. People who are food insecure are at a higher risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. For children, food insecurity can have both physical and mental health implications including delayed development, risk of chronic illnesses and behavior problems.
In response, in 2015 Oregon State University Extension Service in Klamath County partnered with the Oregon Food Bank and SkyLakes Wellness Center to offer Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters, a free course developed nationally to empower families at risk of hunger with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals.
Cooking Matters classes are hands-on and teach basic nutrition and cooking skills that emphasize healthy food choices on a limited budget. Participants receive a workbook, shopping tour with gift card, recipes and groceries to make the recipes at home. The classes are taught by trained volunteers that have a background in culinary, food prep and/or nutrition such as dietitians, culinary students and Extension volunteers.
Since its inception, Extension staff and volunteers have delivered Cooking Matters primarily to adult audiences. In 2018, Cooking Matters expanded regionally to new audiences that included teens and families with children. Extension partnered with a junior high science teacher to delivery Cooking Matters for teens over 12 weeks. Medical students, Extension nutrition educators and volunteers support the program as coordinators, guest speakers, shoppers and cooking assistants.
The course was so well-received it was expanded to 24 weeks and offered each year as student elective. Extension also established a new partnership with a church in proximity to an elementary school to deliver a Cooking Matters series for families. In this program, mothers, fathers, grandparents and other adults worked alongside their children to learn about and prepare healthy recipes together.
In 2019, neighboring Lake County, where 16% of households experience food insecurity, offered Cooking Matters for Families with support from the Oregon Department of Human Services and Food Corps, using Extension materials developed in Klamath County. Klamath Extension faculty trained Lake County volunteers through live streams and video chats.
As a result, Cooking Matters programs in Klamath and Lake Counties have improved participants’ attitudes about cooking and reduced barriers to preparing healthy, affordable meals. Results from surveys also suggest improved diet quality with increased frequency in consumption of fruits, vegetables, and green leafy vegetables.
In a family cooking class, one girl was shy and quiet but by the fifth lesson told her father: “Stand back dad, I can handle making this smoothie recipe on my own.” Later, she wrote the specific ingredients used in the “make your own smoothie” recipe for each person in the class to take home.
These programs show the value of cooking at any age and how they bring people and ideas together, as well as strategies that were developed through a multi-partner effort.