Cooking Matters at Exalta Health

A visitor to Exalta Health last fall might have noticed something unexpected in the air: the savory smell of food being cooked.  

And not just any food. This was healthy food being prepared, a homework assignment of sorts for students in a nutrition and cooking class called Cooking Matters. The class was offered at no charge for community members and was a partnership between Exalta Health and the Michigan State University Extension program.  Heading it up was Yesenia Velasco, a community nutrition instructor with the MSU Extension. She said Exalta Health is to be commended for helping create the opportunity for community members to learn more about healthy cooking and eating. 

“By partnering with MSU Extension to provide access to nutrition and cooking classes,” she said, “Exalta Health is sending a strong message to their clients that healthy eating is a critical piece to their overall health, and they will be  supported in making personal behavior changes to diet.” 

Exalta Health started offering nutrition classes just over a year ago, coordinated by AmeriCorps member Rosa Torres. Since then some 30 people have completed a class and learned valuable tools and tricks for healthier eating. Velasco said that increasing the health of underserved communities in Grand Rapids is a shared value for both Exalta Health and MSU Extension. 

And for the 10 students in the most recent Cooking Matters class, the opportunity to learn how to cook healthy and have some fun at the same time was enticing. Velasco said the fun part is not to be underestimated. 

“Absolutely having fun is a goal,” she said. “By being interactive and hands on and working with others toward the same goal, participants are more likely to learn the skills and be motivated to bring them home and use them. We also hope to build a small community within each group that will be supportive of all.” Along the way, Velasco said, other important goals beyond fun were set for the class, including: 

  • knowledge of healthy-eating behaviors
  • skills to begin making healthier choices
  • learning how to plan meals to maximize food resources
  • Increased confidence in the kitchen
  • safe food preparation skills
  • exposure to new recipes 

Graduates of prior classes who did post-class surveys reported a variety of valuable outcomes, including such things as eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, exercising more, comparing food prices more often when shopping and improvements in food safety in the kitchen. 

Exalta Health plans to offer further nutrition and cooking classes in 2020 with dates and times yet to be determined.