BENNINGTON >> For twelve weeks, a dozen women cooked fresh food, learned about proper nutrition and exercise and shared a meal and stories together.
FoodFit Bennington — a product of the Bennington Idea Fund — just ended its first session. The group is spearheaded by Sue Andrews, executive director of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services—who adapted curriculum from Community Food Centres (CFC) of Canada—and Women's Health Champion, Cindy Krautheim. The program is open to all genders, but the first session consisted only of women.
"It's all part of what we're trying to do to get to the next step about health," Andrews said. "We think this has gone amazingly well."
The three hour course was conducted at Mount Anthony Union Middle School, but because of a burst pipe, the final session was held at Krautheim's house instead. The home setting provided more of a sentimental, warming atmosphere as the class came to an end on July 27.
Some ladies saw the class as a way to eat more vegetables, whereas others enjoyed simply connecting with each other and sharing the same space. Most were strangers to each other, but met through a mutual friend. Two sisters and a niece cooked together as well as a mother and daughter.
"I'm more of a meat and potatoes kind of girl," Lee Cross said as she tended to veggies on the grill outside. "I see it more as a cooking class than woman's class."
"I don't usually eat veggies; meat and potatoes," Cross' sister Sandra Wirasnik said. "We all helped each other [tonight]. I put my two cents in where it was needed. I cook when I have to (at home). I've learned a lot of ways to cook and to make things taste better."
Cross is gluten free and managed to get through the course with only one mishap; a veggie burger that had panko (Japanese bread crumb) in it. Another woman can't have dairy. The allergies were something the women highlighted as something they learned from by taking each other into account when cooking.
"The first 11 weeks were specific recipes. Tonight was a big pile of 'What could you do with this?'" Andrews said. "The mentors didn't dictate as much as to what had to be cooked."
Wednesday's meal consisted of a traditional green salad, a beet, quinoa and kale salad, vegetable stir-fry, plain quinoa, grilled squash and fennel, rotisserie chicken and fried tomatoes and onions. For dessert, a plain yogurt and blueberry smoothie was served with crushed pecans and homemade granola and watermelon.
In past weeks, ladies made baked salmon with pesto, bean chili, grain bowls, marinated tofu, pesto chicken salad, steamed fish and ratatouille, yogurt-baked chicken, creamy cauliflower cheese, zucchini pasta, and many more creative dishes. Banana cookies, beet chocolate cake, ginger molasses cookies and strawberry banana muffins were amongst the sweet treats created.
Week 12 was about letting the ladies cook what they wanted out of a pile of ingredients, which Andrews provides from local farms or her own garden. Even though there wasn't a set recipe, there was an emphasis on using spices and herbs. Laminated spice sheets were made for each person to take home and refer to.
At dinner, Krautheim testified how she couldn't preach to women about eating healthy if she didn't practice herself. She also admitted to never eating as much vegetables as she had during the course, but that she will continue to.
Canada's FoodFit program is for "low-income community members who experience barriers about healthy eating and physical activity," according to its website. Instead of lecture based classes, women get a half hour of organization and then get to work with assistance from four mentors, or women who have more cooking experience. The program was developed by a medical doctor, nutritionists, CFC staff and community members. It incorporates fun, hands-on cooking sessions, food-based activities, take-home recipes, group exercise, goal-setting, class reflections and nutrition information.
Andrews adapted the program based on the demographic. Some ladies wish it would be offered to teenagers, and Andrews hopes to recruit more men. There is talk of continuation of the class, but definite plans are not yet announced.
The Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services is a nonprofit community agency that provides food and financial assistance and medical care. The Bennington Idea Fund, which supported FoodFit, is a volunteer based group that looks to fund projects to strengthen the community. For more information on FoodFit Bennington, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.