Cooking Matters at the Store: Big Benefits for Small Budgets

by | Dec 15, 2016

alexby Alex Handfinger,
Cooking Matters at the Store field manager

It’s no secret that Arkansas consistently struggles as one of the states with the highest rates of both food insecurity and obesity in the nation. Currently, approximately one out of every five kids in our state is obese, while one out of every four kids is classified as food insecure, meaning they don’t always know where their next meal will come from. The reality is that healthy foods are often the most expensive and are not always readily available in low-income communities, even though 85% of low-income parents say healthy eating is important to their families.

Enter Cooking Matters at the Store, a program designed to help teach low-income families how to shop healthy on a budget. During this free tour of the grocery store, participants learn basic skills that help make grocery shopping fun and economical, including:

  • the best ways to purchase fruits and vegetables on a budget,
  • comparing and calculating unit prices,
  • reading food labels, and
  • identifying whole grain foods

At the completion of the tour, families receive a $10 grocery gift card to practice the skills they’ve learned by putting together a healthy meal for a family of four for $10 or less. Participants then take home a booklet with recipes and shopping tips, a reusable grocery bag, and $10 worth of healthy groceries.

Taking the Message Around the State

hall-high3Our Cooking Matters at the Store team is taking this evidence-based program on the road, conducting approximately three event days per quarter in Arkansas cities large and small. On Friday, October 28th, in partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, we held a Cooking Matters at the Store Event Day at the Walmart Supercenter on 2004 S. Pleasant Avenue in Springdale, Arkansas. With the help of more than 25 volunteers from the food bank, First United Methodist Church of Rogers, Humana, and the Schmieding Center, we set up stations throughout different sections of the store to provide healthful tips around how to shop for produce, dairy, protein and whole grains. During that 5-hour event, 384 people came from around the northwest Arkansas area to learn how to shop healthy on a budget!

We will be planning similar event days throughout 2017 and will be recruiting volunteers who want to help bring this innovative program to their communities.

Breaking Down Barriers

In many parts of the state, language skills and illiteracy are significant barriers to successfully reaching out to minority communities. Our Cooking Matters at the Store team works to break down those barriers.

Although it is not well known to many, Springdale has the largest population of Marshall Islanders in the continental United States. Due to a quite tragic history, many of these Marshallese suffer from a range of chronic health issues, extreme poverty, and are often not eligible for public assistance programs like SNAP. Since Cooking Matters at the Store is intended for our most vulnerable neighbors, we worked with a local Marshallese organizer to translate our outreach and education materials into Marshallese and act as interpreters during the store tour for anyone who needed it.

Springdale also has a large Hispanic population that often struggles with food insecurity. Thanks to the help of two additional interpreters, 67 of those Springdale event day tours were provided in Spanish. Staff from the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance were also on hand to help eligible Arkansans enroll in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as Food Stamps.

Evidence-based Nutrition Education

Though Cooking Matters at the Store cannot be the only answer to food insecurity, independent studies have shown that 85% of families buy healthier food after taking a Cooking Matters at the Store tour. When paired alongside other programs that help families meet their immediate needs and access other available resources, nutrition education can be a critical component for transforming lives in the fight against hunger.

If you would like more information or want to bring an event day to your community, contact Alex Handfinger, Cooking Matters at the Store field manager, at alex@arhungeralliance.org. The Alliance staff provides materials, volunteer training, promotional assistance and funding sources to help ensure successful events that reach the people who will benefit the most.