Unlock the potential of food: Breaking down barriers, building skills and reducing stigma with food

Jane Weber, dietitian and program coordinator and others take part in a basic cooking skills workshop at Eastern Kings Memorial Community Health Centre
Jane Weber, dietitian and program coordinator and others take part in a basic cooking skills workshop at Eastern Kings Memorial Community Health Centre

Many of us just didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to cook and that affects our health. 

Processed and restaurant food accounts for 75 per cent of the sodium we eat; adds extra fat, sugar and energy; never mind expense. But it is intimidating to try to cook if you never have, and if the budget is tight, it can be out of reach to buy staple foods to begin. 

With generous support from the Eastern Kings Memorial Health Foundation, the Basic Cooking Skills workshops at Eastern Kings Memorial Community Health Centre in Wolfville offer a free, four-session series to community members. To increase access, transportation and childcare are provided as needed. The classes teach the skills that build confidence to initiate self-learning and also give participants a jump start.

“By providing a slow cooker, basic cookbook, key grocery items and a weekly grocery gift card, we are teaching participants to fish, so-to -speak, but are also providing the fishing rod and some fish to get started,” said Jane Weber, dietitian and program coordinator. “Backed by evidence the gift card component has almost eliminated attendance from dropping off.” 

A pilot revealed reduced stigma when the only inclusion criteria was not being able to cook. Specific populations continue to not be targeted. A workshop can have, for example, a university student, new retiree, single parent, ABI, those with mental illness or limited mobility. 

“It works beautifully,” said Weber. “No one feels out of place. It is surprising how much shame can be around not being able to cook. We cook basic recipes in an environment safe to make mistakes with the goal of building confidence.” 

Dietetic practicum students and volunteers support the program to give hands-on support during the workshops. 

“It never gets old seeing the timidity turn into confidence that extends outside the kitchen,” said Weber. “We know as more meals are made from scratch, nutrition and overall health are improved. For the approximate cost of one night’s stay in hospital, we can run the entire program and potentially prevent many more health expenditures.”