Use Cooking Matters curricula and materials
Cooking Matters materials have been created using a strong evidence base to ensure that you are teaching with the best information and resources available. All of the nutrition guidance provided in our curricula is based on the federal government’s evidence-based nutritional guidance, known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines are reviewed, updated, and published every five years – most recently in 2010. Additionally, Cooking Matters incorporates MyPlate, the tool designed to remind Americans how to create a healthy diet by including a variety of foods from each food group, as an educational tool for our participants. Cooking Matters also seeks to ensure that each of our curricula reflect the most current and tested thinking on appropriate content and facilitation methods for each audience we teach through regular, scheduled curricula updates. Regardless of your training or nutrition background, you should use these materials as the basis for teaching nutrition in the Cooking Matters classroom.
Focus on behaviors, not knowledge
Our cooking-based courses teach participants the practical skills and techniques they need to make lasting changes to their eating habits. In the classroom, you should focus on skills that participants can use, instead of trying to teach facts that you think participants should know. This skills-based approach ensures that participants are able to implement specific, sustainable behaviors as they go about their daily lives.
Require active participation
Our curricula are structured to be highly participatory. Every part of the Cooking Matters program has the potential to come alive in the classroom. Whether you are discussing the Nutrition Facts panel or MyPlate, use visual aids and props that participants can see, hold, and discuss. Make sure participants are able to get into the kitchen and the grocery store, practice the skills they’re learning, and taste the healthy foods they’ve prepared themselves.
Take into account the motivations, barriers, needs, perceptions, and desires of diverse groups
All Cooking Matters instructors are trained to engage participants in active dialogue. Instructors ask participants to suggest topics they are most interested in learning about, discuss their barriers to applying what they learn, and share their ideas for overcoming barriers with their peers. Cooking Matters does NOT use a lecture-style teaching method where participants listen passively.
Don’t provide Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT)
Cooking Matters does not provide participants with disease-specific advice on healthy eating. Questions regarding what to eat in order to manage disease or illness, like diabetes or high blood pressure, need to be answered by a medical professional outside of Cooking Matters programming.
Stay positive while addressing challenges
Keep in mind that “eating right” may seem overwhelming to those who are new to the subject. Focus the conversation on familiar words and avoid “scientific terminology” so that participants can engage in the conversation. Recognize that many folks think that it’s impossible to make healthy choices on a limited budget. You may also have to dispel the myth that “healthy eating is not fun!”
Include self-assessment and feedback
Cooking Matters courses run for six weeks, allowing participants time to reflect on what they’ve learned throughout the course. They also receive feedback and positive reinforcement from the instructors and their peers for all that they’ve accomplished. Encourage your participants as they try new things and take time during classes to ask participants what they think, what they would like to be learning, and how you can help improve their classroom experience.
Go beyond the recipe
Low-income families that regularly plan meals, write grocery lists, and budget for food make healthy meals from scratch more often than those who don’t. At Cooking Matters we know that building someone’s cooking and meal planning skills can have a direct impact on their family’s ability to stretch their food dollars in ways that are also nutritious. The skills we share with participants focus on preparation, ingredients, and cooking methods in hopes that participants will feel comfortable cooking more often and with healthier ingredients.
Someone with formal culinary training and/or experience in the culinary industry tends to be more conversant in these topics, but this type of knowledge and skill is definitely not limited to “chefs.” It is just as important for a Cooking Matters culinary instructor to know how to facilitate conversations about cooking as it is for them to know proper cooking techniques.
Make the classroom a comfortable place to practice and learn
We want participants to learn skills like holding a knife properly and cutting vegetables to uniform sizes before cooking so that they will ultimately be more efficient when cooking at home. Whether or not your class remembers the name of a particular knife cut is less important than making sure that the techniques they learn are ones that they feel comfortable with, will be able to use at home, and will help make their meals taste great so that their families will want to eat them.
Model clean and safe cooking
From personal sanitation, to how the workspace is set-up, to which order you choose to work with different ingredients in, be sure that all food preparation is done in a safe manner.
Put down your knife
Empower the participants to do the preparation and cooking. Class time is when they get to practice so that when they try to make these dishes at home they are successful. Demonstrate how things should be cut or cooked but then step back and offer guidance and support.
Incorporate conversations into the cooking
The culinary portion of class is not just about completing a recipe, but is also an opportunity to engage participants in conversations that will help them learn as they cook. Try some of the following ideas to engage participants in conversation:
- Engage the participants in conversation about the role ingredients play and how to make substitutions
- Spread all the ingredients for a recipe on the table and see how many different meals the group can brainstorm using the available ingredients
- Review the recipe prior to cooking, pointing out the different techniques, asking participants why they think the instructions are to dice not mince, sauté not fry, etc.
- Have participants think about the dish they are preparing, or something they ate recently, and encourage them to brainstorm what ingredients they could add in order to make it more nutritious
- Engage the group in conversations about what would happen to a particular ingredient if you baked it, fried it, sautéed it, braised it, etc.
Cooking Matters courses include participatory cooking where the class works together to make a recipe that everyone can share, but just completing recipes isn’t the only way to use the time. Incorporating activities such as the following can be effective ways to help participants learn about various cooking methods and how to adapt recipes depending on the equipment or ingredients available to them at home:
- Pick one vegetable that in a recipe and use it for a cooking method taste test—raw, boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted
- If the recipe allows (such as quesadillas) prepare it on the stovetop, in the microwave, and in the oven and let participants taste the difference
- While preparing a recipe, pick one of the ingredients and invite participants to discuss what they would do if they didn’t have that ingredient at home