Family bonding is possible long before food hits the table.
Maybe it’s the twist we need to not only revive the lost tradition of eating dinner together, but also to talk to each other more. We can learn how and why we should eat healthy food – on a budget – and improve our nutritional health.
This theory was tested during a six-week pilot program. Families from CONCERT, Inc., a nonprofit after-school and summer program for kids in Southeast Raleigh, and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Cooking Matters for Families class gathered at Enloe High School.
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“It really brings everybody together,” said Timothy Newton, who took the class with his wife, Cecile, and their 14-year-old sons, Tyler and Cahliyal.
“We’ve gotten a lot of new ideas,” said Cecile Newton, noting her new affinity for whole wheat pasta and reading labels more closely. “Now I’m like, ‘I’m going to make a frittata!’ ”
Her enthusiasm will undoubtedly carry over to the teenage boys in their blended family.
“If you start them young eating healthy, that’s all they’ll know and continue as they get older, so that cycle will replace bad eating habits we all grew up with,” Cecile Newton said. “We still get so caught up in our community buying food that’s cheap instead of food that’s healthy. Here, we’ve done both, affordable and healthy.”
Bingo, said Maria Murray Riemann, executive director of CONCERT, or Communities Organizing to Nurture and Celebrate East Raleigh Talent.
Southeast Raleigh mirrors other parts of the country considered food deserts, communities where people who are already food insecure – unsure when they’ll eat again – and have poor access to healthy, affordable, fresh food.
Enloe High hosts Wake County’s first public school food pantry.
“These kids know healthy food is important,” Riemann said. “What they now know (is) they can shop for, buy and prepare that healthy food themselves.”
We’re battling convenience food. They are convenient and they are cheap, but they are not healthy.
Cindy Sink, communications and development director for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle
That’s the battle as Inter-Faith Food Shuttle works to integrate its nutrition education into its food distribution streams.
“We’re battling convenience food,” said Cindy Sink, a communications and development director for the group. “They are convenient and they are cheap, but they are not healthy.
“We’re trying to offer an alternative that is also convenient and healthy and affordable.”
The first half of the Cooking Matters for Families class is nutrition education. The second half is cooking.
The 33 participants who graduated from the pilot program March 1 learned about kitchen etiquette, safety and cleanliness, and also how to read labels, shop on a budget and prepare – and even adapt – recipes. They also got to use the school’s food pantry for ingredients to try recipes at home.
“I’ve learned all about the different food groups and what percentage of each I should eat daily,” said Jaylin Jones, 13, an eighth-grader at Carnage Middle School. “It’s all about eating a colorful diet – on a regular basis.”
Alex Flory, a 17-year-old senior at Enloe, said she appreciates the benefits to her family.
“I learned a lot from it,” she said. “The main thing is how to cook effectively through the use of teamwork and how it can bring a family together. That would be good for our family.”
Flory’s mom, Erica, agrees.
“We don’t eat together enough, and we don’t plan and prepare food together enough,” she said. “We will now.”
Lena White said she and her two children already started.
“It’s helped us bond, and meet new people,” said White, flanked by her son and daughter. “We’re cooking together at home more, and this has given us alternative ways of cooking healthy.”
We are changing lives, creating more healthy, more sustainable, more nutritious lives.
Celia Zhou, Enloe High School senior
Enloe’s Food Ark, a student-run nonprofit that works to reduce food insecurity community-wide, helped during the program.
“It’s really hard in this age for families to come together, so it’s not only a bonding experience, it’s also an education and awareness experience for families,” said Celia Zhou, a senior who serves as president of Food Ark. “We are changing lives, creating more healthy, more sustainable, more nutritious lives.”