Cooking Matters finds a home

By Amanda Saunders
Special to the Herald

In Colorado, one in five children are at risk for hunger and malnutrition.

But thanks to Cooking Matters Southwest Colorado and Surya Health and Wellness, some of those at-risk families are getting a helping hand from educational programs now being held in a permanent kitchen recently established at Surya’s downtown Durango location.

A program of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, Cooking Matters enables low-income families to help themselves by teaching them how to prepare healthy, low-cost meals. Professional chefs and nutritionists volunteer their expertise and time to lead hands-on courses that instruct adults and children living in low-income families how to get the most nutrition out of a limited budget.

Ayurvedic practitioner and Surya owner Amita Nathwani has been volunteering with Cooking Matters since 2000 and recognized an underserved segment of the Durango community that would benefit from increased access to a healthy lifestyle. When she started planning her new business, which opened in February and offers health consultations, classes and wellness-related products, Nathwani also incorporated a kitchen for Cooking Matters.

“I was amazed every day that at the end of the class you got a really good sense of what was accomplished, where do those dollars go, where does the hard work go. And you got that direct feedback from the people that were being helped,” Nathwani said. “I had some times in my life where my community really came to support me … so this was kind of my way of wanting to give back.”

Cue Erin Jolley, the Cooking Matters Southwest Colorado program manager.

“While Amita was developing the business plan and volunteering for us, she came up with the idea to put the two together and have a supporting nonprofit where health, wellness and good eating are a part of her business, as well,” Jolley said. “We’re able to bring a diverse audience into her new business.”

As the Surya business model came to fruition, Jolley and Nathwani worked together to create an ideal kitchen that would be conducive to learning for those new to the cooking world. They designed the kitchen to look like a standard home kitchen instead of a commercial kitchen, so the lessons would be accessible, understandable and easily translated back to the home environment.

“Cooking Matters helps families who are struggling to make ends meet and to put healthy food on the table,” Jolley said. “We help them to make the most of their resources by shopping as healthy as possible, while saving money and time by meal planning and making cooking fun and something that the whole family does.”

Though the kitchen also will be used for other types of cooking classes for the general public, it was developed with the primary purpose of acting as the permanent home base for Cooking Matters classes, something the program has not had in the past. This also will be the first time that Cooking Matters is able to offer classes downtown, which increases program visibility and accessibility.

“It’s a positive environment; everybody interacted and participated, and you get the groceries to go home and cook it for your family that night,” said Jessika Walker, a mother of a 3-month-old who was referred to Cooking Matters through the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program that works with women who are having their first baby.

“I think it’s fun, especially for younger people. I don’t think people really cook anymore, which is sad, and it’s a fun way to learn how to do it, learn new ways to cook, substituting new items,” she said. “I like that they went over the food pyramid and put it into a diagram that’s more understandable ... It puts a better visual on what I need to be doing when I’m cooking.”

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