Island Health Community Wellness Grant helps Cowichan parents learn valuable cooking skills

“Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition!” Marcie Jack, Manager of the Penelakut Tribe Smun'eem Head Start Daycare is marvelling at the emphasis chef Fatima Da Silva places on incorporating a wide variety of healthy and delicious foods into Nourish Cowichan cooking classes for parents from two Cowichan area daycares. The cooking classes were made possible by a $12,000 Island Health Community Wellness Grant received by Nourish Cowichan.

“Hearing the parents on the bus back home to Penelakut Island saying ‘I never thought I would eat mushrooms’ and ‘I am going to make this dish for my kids at home’ is wonderful,” says Jack. “And knowing that these parents are bringing what they have learned in the Nourish kitchen to our community and extended families is amazing.”

Nourish Cowichan is a community organization aimed at filling the empty bellies of the more than 30 percent of Cowichan area children who live below the poverty line. Since its inception, Nourish has regularly provided healthy, nutritious food to several local elementary schools, three daycares and a maternity clinic. The grant for the cooking classes is the second Island Health Community Wellness Grant the organization has received in the last two years to further expand its reach.

“These classes are allowing our parent participants to learn how to prepare nutritious meals on a budget that they can take home and enjoy with their families,” says Anita Carroll, co-founder, Nourish Cowichan. “At the end of the course, we will also arrange for FOODSAFE certification to open up some doors for those who may wish to take their skills into the workforce.”

Once the 12-14 week program has wrapped, parent participants will receive a binder filled with recipes for them to cook at home for their families. Penelakut Island resident Richard Horne, who is enrolled in the course along with his wife, is particularly impressed with what he has learned about ‘cooking from scratch’.

“When we made stock for chicken soup, we used things here that we would normally throw away at home – the ends of onions, insides of the bell peppers, the carrot peels – it was really eye-opening,” Horne says. “I’ve found that this course has helped me improve my cooking skills and also showed me different ways to cook.”

Cassandra Joe, a mother of three whose children attend Growing Together Child Care Centre is also finding value in the many lessons the course has to offer.

“I take the foods I am learning to cook here home to my kids,” Joe says. “And now I have been getting my young son to help me in the kitchen. Recently, he and I made homemade soup from a chicken stock I prepared during cooking class.”

“There are many families at our daycare who struggle with access to good quality foods,” says Laura Court, executive director, Growing Together Child Care Centre. “It’s wonderful to see Cassandra get that hands-on training alongside her peers and continue cooking those foods at home for her family based on the skills she’s received through the Nourish cooking classes.”

Nourish Cowichan’s goal is to continue offering classes to even more interested parents who can then share what they have learned with their children at home.

“It’s about building that confidence in the kitchen, showing people how to cook healthy and delicious meals on a budget and maybe inspiring them to choose a career path in the food service industry,” says Anita Carroll.

Since its inception in 2017, Nourish has partnered with other organizations aimed at ending child hunger, including Rotary’s Starfish program.Together, Nourish Cowichan and Starfish volunteers ensure that children at three Cowichan Valley schools have access to a variety of nutritious foods during the week and on weekends.
Island Health’s Community Wellness Granting Program is available to local governments, not-for-profit community organizations and Aboriginal communities doing work related to population health and health and wellness.  

To learn more about Island Health’s Community Wellness Grant Program please visit: http://communitygrants.islandhealth.ca/