Teaching kitchen provides recipe for healthier lifestyles in Huntington County

Americans are struggling with the public health issue of obesity, and Huntington County residents are no exception. In fact, obesity has been identified as a serious problem for the past five years, based on periodic community health needs assessment.
When Love INC of Huntington County – a local social service organization serving low-income residents with a food pantry, clothing and household goods shop, and many other services – approached Parkview Huntington Hospital (PHH) leaders with an idea to help address the obesity issue, the hospital board was very interested. 
Love INC proposed converting several office spaces at its facility into a teaching kitchen and multipurpose room where the organization could provide cooking classes for people on very tight budgets. Cooking and nutritional instruction can help individuals and families make wiser food choices within their limited means to live healthier lives.
PHH made an offer: Raise a portion of needed funds, and the hospital will provide Community Health Improvement (CHI) funding to match those dollars two-for-one. Love raised $5,000, so with the additional $10,000 match from PHH and donated labor from skilled volunteers, the organization was able to set up a well-equipped kitchen with a shared space for meetings. Two ovens with gas stovetops, divided sinks, a refrigerator, a wall of storage cabinets and an oversized island offer plenty of functional space that now serves a variety of people with cooking classes and guest presentations on healthy-living topics to combat obesity. 
Since the fall, monthly “Cooking with Love” classes have served a wide variety of people and served as a springboard for education about community resources as well. Classes are open to the public. Only pre-registration with the receptionist at 260-356-0933 is required.
The program draws on expertise and resources offered by many individuals and community groups, from presentations on health subjects and exercise to cooking instruction. The PHH outreach dietitian offers recipes and nutritional information. Grant funding from the Huntington County Medical Society provides class participants with free ingredients for the meals prepared at class, so they can recreate the dishes at home. A Purdue Extension Office instructor also provides Spanish-language cooking classes weekly, choosing meals to work with foods currently available at the food pantry.
Others – from the Huntington City-Township Library to the Parkview Huntington YMCA to local physicians and fitness instructors – have stepped up to provide class participants with information on lowering sodium intake, walking and biking for exercise, avoiding sugar, vegetarian cooking, stretching food dollars on seasonal produce, keeping fruits and vegetables fresh longer, cooking meat for better results, and much more.
“Having our kitchen has enabled us to bring together so many resources to give more choice to people whose choices have been severely limited by their income and other circumstances,” said Kelley Miller, food pantry coordinator for Love INC. “Our Cooking with Love classes have introduced people to foods they’ve never tried before and options they didn’t know they had. More people are getting involved all the time, including a local Girl Scout troop that came for a cooking class and a tour. It’s just been really gratifying to see so much good taking place – and it was all set in motion by the CHI funding we received from Parkview Huntington Hospital.”

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