It’s time to share some details of the huge project I’m currently undertaking.  I live in Auburn, Washington which is about 45 minutes south of Seattle. I’ve spent the last 5 months writing grants, doing research, and talking to the community about what their needs are in the area of diet and cooking.  I’m now in the process of developing a curriculum that basically runs with the theme of my blog, learning to cook healthy meals on a tight budget.  It’s super exciting and I thought I’d fill you in about why this is so important to me.

Auburn is located in South King County, which has higher obesity and poverty rates than the rest of King County combined. Our obesity and diabetes numbers have been rapidly climbing each year, especially in children.  We see that every day at the park near our apartment.  A class of 20 children visiting the park often has over half the children obviously obese!  Auburn also has a large number of immigrants and refugees who struggle with understanding food culture in the United States. With such a culturally diverse population, there is often an understandable lack of communication, and a fear of asking for help.

Most of the elementary schools in the Auburn School District have over 90% of their students getting free or reduced lunches. Auburn also has a high rate of families on food stamps, but unfortunately many of these families are not eating healthfully or being taught appropriate food portioning for what they are given. Many families have the oldest child caring for younger siblings during the day, who is also in charge of providing meals. Parents buy unhealthy, prepackaged food items that simply need to be heated, but the meals are full of sodium, sugar and empty calories.

Just a couple weeks ago Eric and I were at a grocery store and I was looking at the conveyor belt full of food.  There were two people in front of us, the first was a man and the second a woman.  The man had a bunch of frozen meals like stir fry, lasagna, and chicken tenders (oh and beer!).  Then the woman had about 20 lunchables and some boxes of sweet sugary cereal.  Then Eric and I had 15 different bags of vegetables, some deli lunchmeat and cheese, some bulk bin flour (to make homemade crackers), oatmeal, noodles, and some rice.  I realized we had basically the ingredients to make the premade meals they were buying.  Funny thing was, our  shopping was enough for about a month, much healthier, and our bill was 1/3 of what they paid.  They each only had enough for about a week!

A need we continue to hear our communities share with the City of Auburn is that individuals and families on a tight budget or food stamps do not know how to cook healthy meals, or how to stretch their food budget. Many low-income residents think that cooking from scratch is too difficult or expensive.  I was in the produce section and saw a little boy in a shopping cart overflowing with unhealthy prepackaged food.  As his mom zipped past the produce, he shouted out “I want fruit!!! Fruit is good for my body!”  She said, “We can’t afford fruit, it’s too expensive.”  My heart broke as I watched her wheel him away from the healthiest part of the store.

So I’m partnering with the City of Auburn and the Auburn Valley YMCA to provide free classes to educate community members on how to cook and eat healthy on a tight budget. Having options is empowering, and offering cooking classes can completely change our culture in a positive way.

The Healthy Cooking Program will offer free classes to all Auburn residents to learn more about nutrition, preventing diabetes and obesity and cooking healthy meals on a tight budget. The program will also partner with other organizations including the Auburn International Farmer’s Market and WIC. The WIC Program provides supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education (at no cost) to low-income pregnant, and post-partum women, and to infants and children up to 5 years of age, who are found to be at nutritional risk.

We will be inviting mothers and children to take classes with us to learn more about healthy eating for both parents and children. The International Farmer’s Market in Auburn also accepts WIC dollars; part of our program will be to assist women in making connections with healthy local food through the Farmer’s Market.  I’m so excited to create an interest in healthy cooking and eating for both parents and kids, as well as teaching them to utilize local resources!

The benefit of the Healthy Cooking on a Budget program is that it will help parents and children make healthy choices in their eating habits to prevent diet related health issues. The program will stop the increase in the obesity and diabetes rates in the City of Auburn, and eventually decrease rates by demystifying cooking from scratch with healthy ingredients. I am currently mobilizing local and county non-profits, grocery retailers, the Auburn International Farmer’s Market and local farms and CSAs to partner with us and support the Healthy Eating on a Budget program and the Community Garden. I’m working to make this nutrition initiative sustainable and use any funding we get to expand the current program and increase health policy work in the local community.

So expect to see some new pages soon with information on the classes, and some more posts in the near future focusing on why it’s important to eat healthy and how to do it on a tight budget.  I hope you’ll be excited with me, and I look forward to sharing with you how my blog is able to make a huge difference in my own community.

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