Contact: Lauren Brendel, M.S.
On Thursday nights, a time when school cafeterias are typically quiet and empty, the cafeterias around the Gallatin Valley are bustling with energy. Area families, assembled under the guidance of Leah Smutko, Culinary Instructor for Gallatin Valley Farm to School, hone their cooking skills, find meaningful ways to incorporate their children into preparing their meal, and when it's all complete, sit down and enjoy their creations together.
Family cooking nights reach beyond teaching safe and effective knife skills and how to quickly chop an onion. The 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), a survey of Gallatin, Madison, and Park County residents conducted by Bozeman Health in partnership with Gallatin City-County Health Department, demonstrated that healthy eating habits among adults and children continue to trend downward, particularly in regard to consumption of fruits and vegetables. Focus groups and in-depth interviews completed during the CHNA process determined that cooking meals from scratch was a barrier for fast-paced, busy families.
Classes focus on tactics to incorporate more fresh and seasonal vegetables, and cost-saving techniques like time-saving meal preparation and utilizing Montana legumes. By working to educate families on how to prepare healthy meals in a fun and supportive environment, the goal is simple: encourage families to recognize the educational and health benefits of preparing a meal from scratch at home. As parents attempt to shift eating patterns - kids are more likely to try these new (and healthy) foods if they are involved in the preparation. So, engaging children in the kitchen is not only educational, it's effective too.
With new funding and enhanced partnership from Bozeman Health, Gallatin Valley Farm to School was able to expand their family cooking night classes this school semester. Classes have been offered this spring at Whittier, Irving, Hyalite and Hawthorne Elementary Schools in Bozeman, and Heck-Quaw, Ridgeview and Saddle Peak Elementary Schools in Belgrade.
"Nutrition is a key factor that contributes to obesity and related unfavorable health outcomes. This partnership with Gallatin Valley Farm to School is rooted in the body of evidence that suggests increasing parent and family self-efficacy in preparing healthy meals will facilitate healthy meal preparation at home," stated Christopher Coburn, Bozeman Health system program manager for community health improvement and partnerships.
"We couldn't be more excited about the expansion of our family cooking classes. Through the CHNA process, we saw that this is an area where families are challenged. The partnership with Bozeman Health has allowed us to address the need in an effective and innovative way. And families are really enjoying their experiences! Parents are genuinely surprised at how excited their kids are to participate in the kitchen. We often hear that families are eating the recipes they learned in class on a regular basis – and fostering little chefs along the way!'' says Sam Blomquist, Registered Dietitian and Executive Director for Gallatin Valley Farm to School.