by Kathy Sandella, Catholic Charities of Ashtabula County
The concept for “What’s for Dinner?”, a collaborative project between Catholic Charities of Ashtabula County (CCAC) and Salvation Army, started about two years ago as CCAC’s Family Services caseworkers realized that clients were struggling with the escalating cost of food.Many clients were also purchasing convenience foods and eating out— two habits that were not only money-draining, but often unhealthy. Salvation Army indicated that some of the most nutritious supplies they provided were not used by their clients and went to waste. We felt that part of the reason the healthy food was not taken was because clients were unfamiliar with some of the items and intimidated by the thought of cooking with them.
So the brainstorm began: “What would be the most effective way to help individuals understand how easy healthful cooking can be?” And the concept for “What’s for Dinner?” was born!
Here’s how it works. We receive the list of the USDA goods that will be provided to clients for the upcoming month and develop a recipe or menu based upon that list.
We launched “What’s for Dinner?” on June 8, 2011 at Salvation Army, a perfect setting for the demonstration— lots of room to cook and a relaxing space for the six clients (and their case managers, if they chose) to watch and interact. And there was plenty of interaction on our maiden voyage! As clients prepared the day’s menu— spinach salad with balsamic dressing, chicken cacciatore, and an Italian chicken soup— they shared cooking experiences they’ve had, mistakes they’ve made spending money on mediocre meals out, and favorite dishes their moms made for them years ago. The participants had no qualms about reminding me to stir something when needed! There was conversation going on the entire time, which enabled me to work in some information about basic financial literacy, couponing, gardening, using fresh produce, and encouraging them to try the simple methods being demonstrated.
When the cooking class was over, all of the participants received a box containing everything they needed to duplicate the meal at home, including all of the spices.