Columbus Cooking Class encourages healthy eating on a budget | Georgia News

By BRITTANY MCGEE, Ledger-Enquirer

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — MercyMed and The Food Mill have partnered with Open Hand Atlanta for a 6-week in-patient cooking class to help participants learn how to shop for and cook healthy foods on a budget.

Patients in the class are enrolled in MercyMed’s Fruit and Vegetable Rx program or a medically adapted meal program. The long-term goal of the program is to help patients gain more confidence in their culinary abilities, reduce barriers, and help students prepare healthier, more affordable meals.

“I think a lot of people believe that to eat well you need to have a lot of money, and that’s not true,” said Jamie Benefield, registered dietitian nutritionist at MercyMed.

She hopes the students in the class will learn to eat well and improve their health and the health of their families, Benefield said.

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A dozen college students sat at gray tables arranged in a U-shape in MercyMed’s wellness center on March 14, listening to Benefield teach them about types of fat and how to cut unhealthy fats from their diets.

Participants participated in the lecture, asking questions and explaining facts they had learned in previous classes. At one point, Benefield pulled out a blue dry-erase marker and asked the students to research diet facts about burgers and sandwiches at fast food restaurants.

Using information the students found online, they created a “Blubber Burger.” A hamburger bun with shortening in the middle is used to visually represent the amount of fat in popular restaurant dishes.

When the Blubber Burger was distributed in the classroom, students reacted with varying degrees of shock or disgust. One participant compared the experience to seeing what smoking does to the lungs.

Shirley and Hal Campbell, a couple who joined the cooking class after participating in MercyMed’s 5 Week Fitness, said learning about nutritional science made them more aware of the prevalence of unhealthy foods in restaurants and grocery stores.

This exercise isn’t meant to highlight that there are “good foods or bad foods,” Benefield said, but rather to show the amount of fat in certain foods. Her goal during the nutritional science portion of the course is to help participants think about the types of foods they eat.

The Blubber Burger was eye-opening, Hal said.

“How many people are eating it right now,” Shirley said. “Or what did I used to eat when I was running and having a really fast lunch every day.”


Tiffany Dunn, director of the culinary nutrition program at The Food Mill, said two of the topics the class covers are how to look at unit cost when grocery shopping and menu planning. This will help people who feel they don’t have time to cook and will also help reduce food waste.

“I want people to know that you don’t have to make fancy recipes and spend $30 on broccoli broth,” Dunn said. “I want them to know they can go and buy cabbage right now this week for less than 50 cents a pound.”

Students made chicken burgers with kale salad during the March 14 class. Chicken burgers are lower in saturated fat, Benefield said, while providing a source of protein.

“A lot of people could have a turkey burger or even a beef burger,” Dunn said. “I thought it was important because the chicken might be cheaper for them to try.”

Ground chicken was $2 cheaper than ground turkey when she shopped for the class, Benefield said. Pairing the chicken burger with a kale salad was also important to Dunn because a lot of people don’t think about having a veggie burger, she said.

Elois Terry joined the class to learn how to cook tasty food with less salt to help take control of her health, she said. Some of her favorite recipes she learned during the course include ratatouille and sautéed vegetables.

“Now that was an eye opener for me,” she said. “That you could build from flavor. Start with the onions, then you can develop your flavors.

The class teaches her to eat at home, Terry said, adding that she is learning to be more self-sufficient by growing vegetables and cooking them. The skills taught are helping her reduce her grocery bill, she said, which has increased due to inflation.

Class participants can take home a box of products each week to practice what they have learned. Products come from the MercyMed farm in Bibb City and other local partners.

One student, who is nearly blind, had not done any food preparation at home before attending this class, Dunn and Benefield said.

But she was inspired to go to the library and have them print out recipes for her in large print. The participant took the recipes to Benefield who helped her tailor the meals to her needs.

“I think it’s huge,” Dunn said. “It’s huge to have someone say, ‘Wow. If I eat this, I can control my sugar.

The classroom is a safe space for participants, Dunn and Benefield said, in addition to being a place where they can socialize with others who may have similar health conditions.

Jaime learned that one of the participants called his doctor to tell him how much the course had helped him achieve his health goals and how he had incorporated more fruits and vegetables into his diet.

“He said they’re my friends,” Benefield said, the doctor told him in an email.

The class has a 100% retention rate, she said, which is not typical for classes like this, which typically have retention rates between 75% and 80%.

There are a few attendees who didn’t feel supported at home, Dunn said, but they bonded with their peers in the classroom.

“A woman says she has ‘my partner,'” she said. “’My partner is there and she’s cheering me on.’ And I said, ‘you know what, you encourage him.’ »

As some students massaged kale for the salad, the class camaraderie was on full display as the group began a chant that references a decorative sign Benefield keeps in his office.

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