February 2, 2022
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop the success of CommUnityCare’s Healthy Chef Cooking Program in improving clients’ diets around Central Texas.
Founded in 2016, the program teaches nutrition education and provides hands-on learning to use healthy ingredients to create healthy meals. The program lasts six weeks, with six separate cohorts taking lessons in English or Spanish.
“The most rewarding part of this program for me is the cooking classes. It’s really neat to see people who are uncomfortable with certain cooking techniques or do not have good health literacy prepare meals and get that sense of success,” said Elyse Henson, CommUnityCare’s Clinical Nutrition Manager & Outpatient Dietitian.
Healthy Chef serves more than 100 patients per year and, after a brief pause during 2020, has adjusted to continuing its mission during the pandemic Class sizes have gotten smaller. Masks and vaccines are required. And in-class food sharing has been replaced by to-go-boxes that allow for after-hours tasting.
The program increased access to lessons in healthy eating both before and after COVID-19 arrived. In 2019, for instance, the “Lose to Win” weight management class consisted of three groups with 24 hour-and-a-half long classes, for a total of 108 hours of lessons for Central Texas residents. This year, six groups are taking 12 two-and-a-half hour classes that collectively offer 180 hours of lessons in diet and nutrition.
The instructors present the nutritional teachings at the start of each class. They cover a broad range of topics, such as what it means to sauté or how much is in a tablespoon.
The lessons follow a set curriculum, with the first focused on kitchen safety, teaching participants how to keep meat and produce separate from one another and store them properly.
Other lessons explain what a healthy plate looks like, including the right daily balance of protein and starches and their roles in a healthy diet. Students actively participate in all lessons by answeringquestions, reading instructions, and helping to cook.
Participants are recruited from a variety of CommUnityCare health centers. Information is posted on flyers and digital screens. Physicians are encouraged to tell patients about the program if they believe they would benefit. About 90% of the clients who participate in the program are at risk for health complications.
Many participants cite the class as a highlight of their week. Although participation is limited to once per year, some clients find it so valuable they rejoin the program each year.
To learn more about enrolling in the Healthy Chef Cooking Program, please call 512-978-9269.