Developing New Healthy Habits
“There’s a misconception…I always thought that it was cheaper to buy processed foods, but it’s not,” says Michelle. She signed up for a Cooking Matters at the Store (CMATS) tour after she lost her job and finally decided that she could not continue to allow her upbringing to negatively affect her health, and that of her three-year-old son.
Michelle grew up on a farm in Iowa. While elements of her childhood were idyllic – with wilderness for exploring, and the land capacity to raise animals – her family struggled financially. Michelle’s mother worked three restaurant jobs in order to keep the family afloat.
With a priority to keep her children fed, Michelle’s mother provided meals that were left over from work and mostly included pizza, chicken and donuts. When Michelle’s mom wasn’t around to make dinner, or offer leftovers, the kids fended for themselves. “There were times we ate sprinkles. We were like, ‘ok – this is what’s in the cupboard’, so that’s what we’d eat,” said Michelle.
Years later, Michelle began to realize that the eating habits she developed as a child had followed her into adulthood and were taking a toll on her health. With the loss of her job, Michelle’s financial insecurities developed into feelings of helplessness. With a small boy to care for, she applied for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits to help supplement her financially. It was through the WIC program that Michelle discovered Cooking Matters, and decided to sign up for a CMATS tour.
CMATS tours teach participants how to shop for healthy and affordable options at the store. Participants learn about unit pricing, how to read and compare food labels, the value of canned and frozen produce options, and more. CMATS tours are also offered in a WIC-specific format, to help WIC parents learn how to maximize their vouchers. Michelle says that taking the tour was like “a light illuminating a hidden room”. This “room”, she explains, is one that held the secrets to her success in being able to afford and prepare healthy meals for her family. Michelle can now identify whole grain options which contain more fiber and are more filling than refined grains. She also knows that canned and frozen forms of produce are good choices since they are picked at their peak of freshness to preserve nutrition. Michelle takes the time to review the nutrition facts label to make sure she chooses products that do not include added salt or sugar.
Since taking the CMATS tour, Michelle not only lost weight, but also shed decades of bad habits, which will no longer be passed onto her son. Inspired by her ability to offer her son a healthier lifestyle, Michelle wants to help others and is working hard to share her experience with families that could benefit from the program as she did.