Share Our Strength Cooking Matters: Changing Diets and Improving Lives

On a recent February evening, a group of families gathered at the Cynthia H. Hubert Community Cupboard at Gleaners. They weren’t shopping for groceries. They were talking and laughing and cooking a meal together.

Indy Hunger Network launched the Share Our Strength Cooking Matters program last year, where Gleaners was and still currently is a host site. This six week course helps families learn to stretch their limited food budget, make healthier meals, find new recipes and become excited about preparing and sharing homemade meals with their family.

According to Sarah Huber, Nutrition Manager at Gleaners, the concept of cooking with healthy, nutritious fruits and vegetables is sometimes new to food pantry clients. “Until Gleaners launched Produce Hope last May, fresh produce was not always available,” she said. “As a result, clients are sometimes unfamiliar with the fresh version of what they may be used to getting in cans.” Some of the meals prepared include fresh produce, while others include canned and frozen options.

In addition to learning to cook new recipes, Cooking Matters helps with meal planning and budgeting. A lot of fun is mixed in, including The Grocery Store Challenge that tests participants’ skills as they shop for groceries to make a meal for a family of four. The catch: all 5 food groups from the USDA’s MyPlate have to be included, and the budget is $10 or less.

Huber says that she often receives photos of meals that the participants have prepared. “It’s so gratifying to help them realize how they can eat healthy while using SNAP benefits (food stamps) and food pantries to supplement their food budgets.”

The long term impact of the program is being measured, as Huber isn’t just looking for immediate effect. “A healthier diet will give these families a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.” Based on data collected thus far by Share our Strength and No Kid Hungry, the program is having a lasting effect. Specifically, families report being more confident that they will be able to afford enough food. Six months after the class, they report that they rarely worry about running out of food, a 17% increase from before the class.

The next Cooking Matters class begins on April 9. We’ll be following that class, sharing their stories on our blog, Food for Thought, and in our eNewsletter. Sign up for eNews at gleaners.org.