I am guilty of looking for quick, fast and cheap ways to eat. While I know that processed food and take-out may not be good for me, I find myself indulging all too often.
Why is this? Sure, some ‘junk food’ tastes good, but I think my main driver is that it’s fun to eat out and it’s quick and accessible after a long day at work.
After speaking with Lisa Dooley, a dietitian with Eastern Health’s Janeway Lifestyle Program, I realized that this lack of desire to cook is not unique to me.
“There is a growing concern regarding a potential lack of home cooking and loss of cooking skills among Canadians of all ages,” Lisa explained. “Shifting values, time constraints and the availability of prepared meals are just a few of the factors that translate into diminishing food preparation skills.”
The Janeway Lifestyle Program has seen the impact that the lack of home cooking has had on the health of children and families. The team works with families whose children have been identified as having a risk factor for the development of a chronic disease such as high cholesterol, high blood sugars, high blood pressure, liver disease and weight concerns.
They also work with parents who are interested in learning about raising healthy, happy and active children.
“Our team’s mission is to empower all families in Newfoundland and Labrador to eat well, be active and feel good. We offer many fun activities to families and their children that also educate them on healthier lifestyle decisions,” said Lisa.
One of the fun, educational activities offered through the Janeway Lifestyle Program is a cooking class for families.
“Canadians know that cooking homemade meals can improve diet quality; however, barriers, such as lack of time, energy and ideas, negatively impact day-to-day food preparation. Without basic, healthy food in the kitchen, you can’t cook nutritious meals,” Lisa said.
She adds: “The goal of our family cooking classes is to teach families that despite the various barriers – they can cook! We teach them fun, creative and affordable options for snacks and meals, as well as provide them with practical advice on choosing the good-for-you ingredients they need to cook healthy, tasty meals at home.”
On January 28, 2014, Lisa in partnership with Tracey Bridger, Medical Director of the Janeway Lifestyle Program, held a cooking class at the Dr. L. A. Miller Centre in St. John’s for families, showing them how to prepare healthy and fun holiday recipes. The class emphasized a collaborative approach to cooking by getting the whole family involved.
“Cooking food at home is one of the most important things you can do for your health and the health of your family. You have control when you do the cooking,” said Tracey.
I attended one of the Janeway Lifestyle Program’s cooking classes, and was it ever educational. I was very inspired by how involved and eager the children in each of the families were to participate and try healthy foods.
“Involving children and youth in food preparation will help those children develop positive behaviours and healthier lifestyles. The younger the child, the easier it is to set positive behaviours in their lifestyle, which is why we offer a self-referral pre-school program to parents who want to teach their children to live healthy,” Lisa passionately explained.
So what was on the menu at these cooking classes?
The first recipe the families tried was a treat for St. Patrick’s Day – Good Luck Biscuits (PDF). Many people may think a healthy diet probably doesn’t include cookies, but Lisa pointed out that the various whole and healthy ingredients (such as mashed or pureed sweet potato!) in these cookies come together to make a healthy holiday snack.
Each of the children created their own cookies by rolling the dough and cutting out different shapes. The families popped the cookies into the oven and moved onto the next recipe while they waited.
The next recipe was a Valentine’s Day treat – Strawberries and Dip (PDF). The children cut the strawberries into heart shapes and created delicious homemade dips. The first dip was a chocolate avocado mouse and the second a cinnamon yogurt.
Three-year old John enjoyed peeling the carrots for the recipes, as well as all of the other recipes. His mother, Erin, explained why she brought John along to the cooking class: “I think children are more likely to eat food that is fun! Often processed food can look exciting, so it is nice to make healthy food that looks fun too.”
John enjoyed decorating a hardboiled egg as a bunny using carrot pieces to make the nose and ears.
An older participant, Jenna, was very proud of her Baby Chickwich. Her mother, Deanna, enjoyed attending the cooking class with her daughter.
“We are having fun with healthy food! I enjoy seeing her [Jenna] face at these classes. I think when food is fun, it is probably going to taste good,” said Deanna.
To end the class, the group made festive smoothies for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. These smoothies contained ingredients like beats, chia seeds and leafy greens, providing families with a healthy option to get their daily fruit and vegetable intake.
“Our hope is that if we can get these families’ interest going, then they might bring some of the behaviours and recipes they tried at our cooking classes home with them,” said Lisa.
“It is very rewarding to watch a child enjoy good food – whether you’re a parent or a health care professional,” she added.
Lisa offers cooking classes throughout the year based on demand. The Janeway Lifestyle Program offers a variety of other fun healthy initiatives, such as hiking, a community garden, and other educational programs. For more information on the program, visit Eastern Health’s website. ■
This story was written by Jackie O’Brien, media relations manager with Corporate Communications at Eastern Health.