Teens Gain Confidence Through Cooking

Many high school students do not get the opportunity to learn how to cook healthy foods. This was the case for special needs students who attended Teen Cuisine classes taught by Ashley Draper, Anderson County TNCEP program assistant. By the end of the program, students were excited about cooking and willing to try new foods.

With help from Ashley, the teacher, and the aides, every single student participated in the cooking process. The students prepared different recipes such as scrambled eggs loaded with vegetables, vegetable stir fry, and black bean quesadillas.

After the series of classes concluded, the teacher told Ashley that participating in it had led students to feel more empowered and confident in their abilities. “What you are doing with these kids is really making an impact. Our students would likely have never gained these sorts of skills had you not offered this program.”

Power U Impacts Student Choices

In Debbie Strickland’s Power U, fifth graders in Greene County learned about food groups, the benefits of physical activity, the importance of water over sugary drinks, and basic nutrition.  As the class went on, the teacher noticed differences in her class.  Students started drinking more water, they were more physically active during recess, and they often discussed lunch for the day.

As they talked, the students wondered whether the school lunch would have fruits and vegetables, who included fruits and vegetables in lunches from home, and what snacks were brought in.  The teacher noticed they took an interest not only in their own healthy food choices, but also those of their classmates.

Educator Adapts Curriculum to Meet Special Needs

Lucy Timbs was contacted by a high school teacher in Washington County interested in nutrition classes for her special needs students.  Lucy worked with the teacher to adapt curriculum to serve the needs of the students.  In Cooking Matters for Teens, students used measuring cups and spoons to gain visual understanding of portions.  They also learned safe knife skills when prepping a recipe and the importance of fruit and dairy in their daily diets. “This is my first time using a knife,” said one student.  “I was scared of them but not now.”

In Tasty Days, students and aides tried blueberries, cucumbers, spinach, and bell peppers.  Most have a limited diet and their willingness to try new items was a big step. One student shared, “I don’t like any of this, but I will try it.” An aide was astounded when one student, who only ate nuggets and pop tarts, ate an entire vegetable.

Reluctant Participant Tries New Vegetables

In Bedford County, Power U was offered to 3rd – 7th graders at the recreational center’s summer camp.  Yesenia Lira-Garcia used no-cook recipes such as salad-on-a-stick.  She encouraged participants to try all the vegetables. One participant was very reluctant about trying cucumbers because he’d never had them and was certain he wouldn’t like them.  He also shared that his mother hated cucumbers.

After more discussion about the value of trying new foods, the young participant tried the cucumber; he liked it so much he ate some more.  “My mom is not going to believe this,” he said.  Later, he reported to Yesinia that he and his family had gone to a restaurant, where he put cucumbers on his salad.  “I did like you said and tried them again,” he proudly told her.


Nutrition is Important to Recovery

Martha was a young mother who had entered treatment at a women’s recovery center. Because of her struggles with addiction, Martha had not been eating healthy foods for a long time.  As part of her treatment, she participated in an Eating Smart and Moving More program offered by Julie Bledsoe, Knox County EFNEP program assistant. Martha learned about nutrition and how to provide healthy food for herself and her children.

After Martha transitioned to a halfway house, she continued to make healthy changes. She learned that a nearby drug store was offering healthy food options, such as ready-made salads, fresh fruit, and vegetables. She got permission for the van driver to stop at the store during trips to the outpatient center so that she and other residents could purchase healthy foods.

In reflecting on Martha’s journey, Julie stated, “I feel like we’re giving them tools to cope. Nutrition is important to any kind of recovery.”

Adult Finds New Direction After Diagnosis

Eating Smart, Moving More help adults learn how to eat healthy on a budget. EFNEP and TNCEP educators teach adults how to reduce portion sizes, how to read nutrition labels to make healthier selections, and how to add fruits and vegetables to their meals. Sheri Arden is a TNCEP program assistant in Blount County and she has worked with many adults, including Ginger.

Ginger had was diagnosed with diabetes and was motivated to change how she ate.  She participated in Sheri’s class Eating Smart, Moving More. On the last day of class, Ginger shared that her A1C number had decreased from a high of 15 down to 6 over the previous five months. She told Sheri “I have learned so much about how to prepare healthy meals and I am excited now to work hard to reach my weight goals and to continue to lower my A1C. Now that I have direction, I can eat healthier and take care of myself.”

Shop Smart is a Success

Tamara Cunningham and Cymone Merritt implemented an eight-session Shop Smart series at a discount grocery store in Shelby County. They set up a table near the store’s front entrance on consecutive Fridays. Each week, they focused on a different recipe, giving out samples to customers passing by the table. Foods for that recipe were then tagged in the store so that shoppers could easily identify them as they shopped.

Many shoppers came up for a sample. After shopping, people who had sampled the food would often come back to ask for the recipe. Tamara noted, “I think people are open to healthy options. With Shop Smart, store customers could taste the food, find out where the recipe items were in the store, buy them, and then head on home”. As one man emphasized to Tamara, the convenience of being able to get the recipe and purchase all the items on site the same day he sampled the food was significant.

Residents Benefit from Nutrition Classes

In Hamblen County, Carla Testerman provided eight Eating Smart at Home workshops at a group home. Participants were very engaged and eager to learn. At the end of class, they reported the many food safety skills, healthy food choices, and grocery shopping habits that they had put into practice. “I am washing all the fruits and vegetables now, and reading labels to see how much sugar is in food,” said one participant. In addition to eating more healthily and saving money on food, the participants also began walking each day as a group.

At a group home in Sevier County, Meg Curtis taught a series of My Plate for My Family classes to residents. The class focused on nutrition, food safety, and cooking healthy recipes like black bean and corn quesadillas, whole grain French toast, and fruit toss. After the lesson on quesadillas, the residents requested an electric skillet for the home. One resident noted he has a much better understanding of how many fruits and vegetables to eat each day as well as the importance of following good food storage practices. The manager also benefited by being in the class; she now goes to the gym, is reading food labels, and made the fruit salad recipe for her own family.

Older Adults

Participant Makes Life-Impacting Changes

A resident of Claiborne County made significant changes after participating in Blake Helderman’s Eating Smart and Moving More program at a senior center.  She started class confined to a wheelchair.  She was considered overweight, had a diabetes diagnosis, and was starting to develop more health problems.  She did not exercise or adhere to nutritious eating.

Once she started the class, the participant started eating more fruits and vegetables.  She lost 20 pounds. She no longer needs the wheelchair and was able to return to walking, eventually walking a half mile each day and working up to two miles.  “This program has possibly saved my life by showing me the steps I needed to take to make changes,” the participant said.

Eat Well, Feel Well Participants Give Positive Feedback

Over the course of several months, Ebone Colcough taught an Eat Well, Feel Well program at Bethlehem Center, a family resource center in Davidson County. Older adult participants engaged in lessons on nutrition, food safety, hydration, physical activity, and food storage.  They also got to try new recipes.

Feedback from the participants was very positive.  One participant wrote, “I know how to read food labels when I shop at the store. I use the drainer to reduce the sodium in canned vegetables.  And, my plate choices have changed for better health.”  Another looked forward to every class. “We learned something new each time,” she said.  “I am cutting back on sugar and salt, eating more vegetables, eating out less, and working on smaller portions,” wrote another participant.  A fourth reported, “All the information we get is very important to me and the class.  I love the cookbook and do use it.”  Another participant stated her appreciation for the information as she worked to become “a healthy, all-around senior citizen.”

Participant Shares Healthy Recipe with Others

Scott County educator Teresa Honeycutt was at a local store when she ran into a participant who had been in her Eating Smart at Home program the previous year at a senior housing complex.  The participant told Teresa that he continues to use the tuna burger recipe he learned in her class.

After learning the recipe from Teresa and making it at home, he took the tuna burgers to a church dinner; it was a big hit.  “They loved it.  They could not believe it was a healthy recipe.”  The participant now takes the tuna burgers to church dinner each month and puts copies of the recipe beside them on the table.  He is proud that he has a tasty dish that is healthy which he can share with his community.

A Grandmother Is Motivated to Make Healthy Meals

A grandmother in Overton County was motivated to attend Becky Smith’s Eating Smart and Moving program after her 4-year-old granddaughter became ill and was in the hospital for a time.  She told Becky that she wanted to help support her granddaughter by learning how to prepare healthy meals for her.

By attending classes, the participant learned how to check ingredient lists on foods at the grocery store.  This information helped her limit the sugars in the family meals and to offer more nutritional choices to her granddaughter. “Learning to check food labels has given my family a better chance at keeping my granddaughter safe and healthy,” she said.


A New Family Favorite Recipe

When McNairy County TNCEP program assistant Kim Smith was able to resume her classes in person, husband and wife John and Deirdre were enthusiastic about coming back. Their high school daughter Pammy had participated in TNCEP’s Adventures in the Kitchen and PowerU many years earlier.

As part of Eating Smart at Home, participants sampled recipes. John and Deirdre were excited about making quiche at home. In class, they had learned that choosing a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables leads to absorbing more vitamins and nutrients, so Kim encouraged them to try out different vegetables in the quiche. Their daughter Pammy, who had been reluctant to try quiche, began cooking the recipe with her parents.

The quiche has become one of the family’s favorites and they now freeze it so that they always have some on hand.  Deirdre noted, “I’m impressed and happy that Pammy tried and loved something healthy and new.  I’m also glad that she has expanded her culinary knowledge.”

Parents and Children Learn Together

Family Promise is a national program aimed at helping families experiencing unstable housing to achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response. In partnership with Family Promise in Blount County, Danielle Trotter was able to set up a six-week Eating Smart at Home program in the fall where she provided nutritional information, cooking demonstrations, and recipes while Family Promise provided a bag of groceries for each family that contained everything they needed to try each week’s recipe on their own.

Danielle also conducted Tasty Days with the children. They worked on activity sheets while she taught Eating Smart at Home lessons to the adults.  Two of the children started out very quiet, but by the end of the program they were asking questions and were eager to try new foods, along with their parents.