Angie Treadwell wants to talk produce.
“Does anybody here have a favorite vegetable?” she asked the 10 people in her cooking class.
“Carrots!” shouted four-year-old Angel.
He was in luck. For the “Fruits and Vegetables for Families” class on Thursday in Hermiston, Treadwell, coordinator for OSU Extension Service’s nutrition education program, taught families how to make two dishes using the orange root — an Asian carrot salad, and a Mexican vegetable-beef skillet dish.
Even though several of the people at the class knew how to cook, many were there to learn how to use more vegetables in their meals, and how to make healthier choices when cooking.
Umatilla-Morrow Head Start, along with OSU, is providing the classes to families that qualify for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program that provides nutritious foods to low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at risk of not getting adequate nutrition.
“We’re trying to do preventative care,” Treadwell said. She noted that scientific research has shown that eating enough vegetables can help prevent, and even address, common diseases.
For the “Fruits and Vegetables for Families” program, people were screened for food insecurity, and had to qualify in one of three areas: meeting CDC guidelines for obesity, or being diagnosed by a healthcare provider with diabetes or hypertension. Those who qualify are asked to come to at least four cooking classes, and get a bag of fresh produce to take home with each class. Classes are funded by an $85,000 grant from Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization. In June, 122 people attended one of the six classes offered.
Though the classes target women and children, Treadwell said they encourage the whole family to join in.
Silvia Castillo came to Thursday’s class with her children.
“I am not big on cooking,” she said, as she grated carrots, her son made dressing and her daughter chopped tomatoes. “But as a family we had lots of fun.”
She said she plans to come back for other classes, and hopes to cook more with her kids.
Victoria Erevia-Garcia stirred brown rice into the vegetable-beef skillet.
“I love to cook, I’ve been doing it for years,” she said.
But the class introduced her to some new things. She’d never cooked with squash before, and wasn’t used to cooking with carrots.
“I’m diabetic, so it helps me learn what to do,” she said of the class. “Maybe it will help me get rid of my diabetes as well.”
In another room, Head Start employees arranged bags stuffed with fresh produce including zucchini, potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe.
Treadwell said most of their produce is donated from CAPECO, and they supplement it with products from local growers.
“We’ve been budgeting about $40 per month per family, but we’ve been coming in under that,” she said.
Treadwell also showed people how to use the WIC shopper app, which connects them to a monthly newsletter and recipes. They can search for recipes using specific vegetables or different types of meals.
Selene Rosas, a Head Start Health Resource Specialist, said many families are initially hesitant to come when they’re first contacted about the class, but reception has been positive.
“Once they’re here and hands-on, making a meal, they want to come back,” she said.