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Cooking class teaches low-income families about nutrition

Christine Duncan, Oldham County FCS extension agent, leads a cooking class at the La Grange YMCA.

PHOTO: Katie Pratt, UK Agricultural Communications
La Grange, Ky.

Inside the La Grange YMCA, mothers and grandmothers bounced their babies to quiet them, while people of all ages sat in chairs, along walls and stood in the adjoining gym to watch Christine Duncan cook corn and zucchini.

For the past three years, Duncan, Oldham County’s agent for family and consumer sciences with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, has often taught her monthly cooking classes to a standing room only crowd. Her classes are held in conjunction with the monthly delivery of fresh food and perishables from Dare to Care, a Louisville food bank that receives donated food from area grocery stores. Duncan and Sherry Ragsdale, UK assistant for Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, lead the 30-minute class.

“A lot of people don’t know how to cook fresh produce, so my classes give them nutritious, seasonal recipes to use when they receive their food,” Duncan said. “I also encourage them to grow their own food to improve their nutrition and stretch their food dollars.”

While Oldham County is one of the most affluent areas in the state, not all areas are wealthy. In La Grange, the poverty rate is 19 percent, higher than the state average of 18.6 percent. Neither the cooking class nor participation in Dare to Care are limited to Oldham County residents, and people come from Henry, Trimble and Carroll counties to attend both. Some fix their work schedules around attending, as they struggle to feed a family while working minimum-wage jobs. While both programs target the county’s low-income population, neither requires participants to prove income status. Attendees cover all age ranges and several ethnicities.

“We know there’s a need and that food is an issue,” said Erica Price from the Metro United Way. “Extension is teaching people how to stretch their food dollars. We really want to help empower people to grow their own food and provide nutritious food for their kids.”

Duncan received a grant from Metro United Way to provide cooking accessories for all attendees of her classes, as well as a few nicer items for a random drawing. In July, everyone received potholders and 10 people won aprons.

Participants also sample the prepared dish, and each receives the recipe and other educational nutrition information.

Nancy McCarty of La Grange first started coming to the cooking class after seeing a sign posted outside of the YMCA about a year ago. Now, she arrives early to get a front seat for Duncan’s demonstration.

“I love the recipes,” she said. “It gives you a change, but that’s good for us.”

It also serves as a recruiting tool for Ragsdale, who has met several families by helping Duncan with this program, including Teresa Chesser of Ballardsville.

“The cooking program has opened my eyes to foods that contain excess amounts of fat, salt and sugar, and it’s given me wonderful recipes,” Chesser said. “It also gave me the opportunity to meet Sherry (Ragsdale), who has given me a lot of wonderful information.”

Chesser added that the programs are not only educational for her but for her daughter, who is 18 years old and will soon be out on her own.

After the cooking class, attendees wait patiently for their numbers to be called to get food from Dare to Care volunteers and leave with the confidence of knowing they can prepare fresh foods.

Contact: 

Christine Duncan, 502-222-9453

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