Nutrition Program for Small, Social Cooking Groups Is a Hit

Article excerpt

Women who cook, eat, and chat together also improve their diet together, according to a Cornell University study of a Cornell Cooperative Extension program.

In fact, women on limited income who participated in the six-week Sisters in Health program reported they ate 40 percent more fruits and vegetables.

The Cornell program focuses on women cooking, eating, and sharing nutrition activities in small groups. Unlike other "nutrition education" programs focusing on teaching information, which often experience high dropout rates, Sisters in Health groups actually increased in size as participants brought their friends.

In addition, the women ended up with dramatically more confidence and know-how on preparing and serving fruits and vegetables to their families, says Carol Devine, assistant professor of nutritional sciences.

"We knew from a previous study we did in Rochester, N.Y., that women who liked fruits and vegetables had positive memories associated with these foods," says Devine. "We set out, therefore, to create our own positive experiences for the women to associate with eating fruits and vegetables while they developed their food preparation skills and nutrition knowledge."

Instead of a didactic approach telling women "you should eat vegetables because...," Devine and her colleagues created small social cooking groups with specific objectives.

For example, in one session, the women prepared a salad bar and then helped themselves. "By comparing nutrition labels for each food, they learned that turning a ho-hum tossed salad into a nutritional bonanza may be as easy as substituting fresh spinach or romaine lettuce for iceberg lettuce," says Cornell extension associate Tracy Farrell, who worked on the project with Devine.

With Farrell and Wayne County extension agent Rosemary Harman, Devine field tested the program with 242 women in 24 groups across 15 New York counties. Recruited from Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED), Food Stamp Nutrition Education, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education (EFNEP), and Head Start programs, the women participated in six 90-minute meetings that emphasized practical ways to prepare quick and tasty fruit and vegetable dishes. …