As of January, more than 231,000 people in Idaho were on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. The average Idaho recipient receives about $128 per month. For many, that’s not enough, and they rely on food pantries and family members for help. The Idaho Foodbank has a program designed to teach nutrition and food budgeting to those on limited incomes.
Men and women laugh and gossip as they gather around long tables, chopping up fruit and vegetables. Jessyca Tyler brings out a large frozen bag. “I am putting some chicken out on a sheet pan so that we can get it ready for the recipe.”
She calls her class together. “We’re preparing three recipes today. We’ve got one that’s called Haitian-Style Chicken and the over there you guys have ingredients for a fruit salad with warm honey yogurt on top.”
Also on the menu, chocolate cake with cherries. Tyler will teach 16 adult students in this “Cooking Matters” class. She is the nutritionist for the Idaho Foodbank and coordinates the nutrition education program. “The over-arching goal of “Cooking Matters” is to help our participants take their limited food resources, whatever those may be, whatever way they’re accessing food, we help them to take those resources and then make the healthier choice that they can, based on what they have available to them.”
The classes are part of a national program from Share Our Strength, a non-profit hunger advocacy group. They cover food budgeting, food safety, healthy recipes and a nutrition theme every week.
Julie Armstrong is one of the students. She wants to learn to cook healthier food and how to spend less on groceries. With a husband and two grown kids at home, she spends about $500 a month on food. “Things are not getting any easier out there in the economic world.”
The goal today is to emphasize lean protein, something Armstrong wants to do. She used to use meat a lot in her cooking. “Things like spaghetti and tacos and pulled pork. A lot of things with meat. I’ve been trying to really cut back on how much meat we’re eating.”
She says buying less meat is not only healthier, it’s cheaper. She hopes the class will help her change her lifestyle. But she’s finding that to be a challenge. “It is not easy, it’s not easy at all, when you’ve cooked for as long as I’ve had in a certain way. We especially like goodies in our house, so we’re trying to change that habit too.”
Jessyca Tyler watches as the students pour the sautéed vegetables and spices over the chicken. It goes into the oven, as Tyler talks about fats in food. “So what does is mean when you hear the terms healthy fats and unhealthy fats? Does anyone know what the definition of those are?
Nutrition tips are just part of how to eat healthy on a budget. Tyler includes tips on how to stretch every penny when shopping. “For instance, maybe the white bread that you’re getting at the store is $.89 and the whole wheat is $2.00 but that whole wheat bread you’ll feel full twice as long so you might not need as much when all is said and done.”
She also counsels her students that nutrition doesn’t have to mean boring. She’s altered a chocolate cake recipe, using applesauce to cut out some of the sugar and fat. She’s also adding fruit and fiber to this desert. “Who thought chocolate cake could be healthy? Who thought that you’d see a chocolate cake in a healthy foods class?”
The Idaho Foodbank holds classes for adults, kids, teens, and families. In 2011, more than 17,000 families took a Cooking Matters class around the country.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio