ISU Extension program aims to teach healthy nutrition, cooking, planning
Life gets busy. Sometimes it seems like there’s just no time to go grocery shopping and cook dinner after a long, hard day at work.
Most of us turn to quick and easy options at the store like frozen pizza or a TV dinner, full of sodium and fat. Or maybe we run through the drive-thru for some greasy burgers and fries.
It doesn’t have to be like that.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is there to help families learn to choose nutritious foods, how to cook healthy meals at home, how to save an average of $50 a month on their food bill and how to handle food safely.
Through the Buy.Eat.Live Healthy program, families are invited to take free nutrition classes where they will learn how to save money by shopping better and wasting less food, save time at the store and in the kitchen, help picky eaters try new foods, learn how to cook easy and low-cost meals and strengthen family relationships.
The Buy.Eat.Live Healthy program is funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through the United States Department of Agriculture. The classes are offered at no cost to the participants.
In Webster County, it is taught by Carolyn Maschino, the county’s Buy.Eat.Live Healthy program assistant.
“The mission of ISU Extension entirely is to be a positive educational research-based information source for all Iowans, and nutrition is just one small part of that,” Maschino said.
Typically, the Buy.Eat.Live Healthy classes are available to mainly limited-income households, but during this COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Webster County Extension is opening it up to all families with children 18 and under.
“There’s a tremendous need, I think, in Webster County, when you look at poverty,” Maschino said. “When you look at the largest portion of residents in poverty, it’s kids. They’re the highest risk group in Webster County, so this type of programming is to make sure that they’re getting the best nutrition they can.”
The Buy.Eat.Live Healthy program is a positive investment into the quality of life for the people of Webster County, she added.
The program is taught through eight lessons, including lessons about how to increase the amount of vegetables and fruits families eat, how to select lean proteins and handle and cook them safely and how to limit foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
Participants learn recipes, taste foods and receive some free gifts during the classes. Upon completion of the eight-class program, graduates receive a certificate and a cookbook.
The program also has two additional optional lessons — showing pregnant women how to make healthy decisions and lifestyle choices and showing parents how to develop positive eating and physical activity behaviors in their children.
“Everyone wants their kids to eat well, everyone wants them to thrive,” Maschino said. “I have two children of my own and I know sometimes it’s frustrating. You don’t know if they’re eating the right things, or you have a picky eater.”
The classes allow parents to build on the knowledge they already have with good research-based information, tips on meal planning, introducing new foods to kids and getting kids involved in cooking.
“Some people don’t really have cooking skills,” Maschino said. “It’s kind of a lost art.”
In her classes, Maschino teaches knife skills and cooking techniques like searing, browning and simmering.
“We’re learning simple one-pot meals that we can have ready in 30 minutes that are healthy and low-cost,” she said.
Maschino often works with different agencies and organizations in the county to host classes, including churches, Head Start, LifeWorks, Upper Des Moines Opportunity and the YWCA.
“I also can go into the home and provide these lessons individually as well,” she said. “Sometimes that works better for parents who have kids and might not have childcare or transportation, I can take the lessons to them at the home. If they don’t want to meet in the home, they’re more than welcome to come to my office.”
Maschino said she tries to tailor the classes to the needs of the participant, whether that means teaching low carb meals for a diabetic family member or low sodium meals for those with hypertension. She also teaches them how to read and understand food labels.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, Maschino is continuing to do virtual lessons through the month of May. Depending on how the situation changes or doesn’t change, virtual classes may continue into June and July as well.
While doing the virtual lessons, Maschino isn’t able to do the hands-on cooking classes right now, but participants will have the opportunity to cook with her in the future.
“If we go through the virtual lessons through this quarantine, once those restrictions are lifted and it’s safe for people to gather again, I can go out and meet them one or two times to do some cooking,” she said.
Webster County Extension also offers another nutrition class called Plan, Shop, Save and Cook, which is for adults who don’t necessarily have children living in the home. This four-lesson class focuses on meal planning, shopping smart to save money, reading the nutritional facts label and cooking a healthy, low-cost meal.
For more information, or to sign up for the nutrition classes, contact Carolyn Maschino at 515-576-2119.