Buying time: Helping families prepare healthier meals

By Stephanie Carson
Public News Service-NC

CHAPEL HILL — ‘Tis the season for food drives, and while the public service is needed and appreciated, research from UNC Chapel Hill is asking whether North Carolinians have the skills or the time to prepare the food that is donated.

Photo credit: FEMA photo library UNC research looks at whether people have the skills and the time to prepare healthy meals.

Photo credit: FEMA photo library
UNC research looks at whether people have the skills and the time to prepare healthy meals.

Many schools have phased out “Home Economics” classes, and many households have shifted to ready-to-eat foods, according to UNC’s Lindsey Smith, who authored a 2013 study on the topic.

“We’re encouraging people to cook because we think it’s healthier, but then the question becomes, are they actually able to cook,” says Smith. “For us, what we’re really interested in knowing was do they make the time to cook?”

Smith says one way to overcome the challenge of food preparation, in addition to cooking instruction, could be to donate items that are easier to prepare such as pasta and canned beans.

Smith’s study found that long hours or multiple jobs are a barrier to healthy eating, particularly for low-income households or people living alone with no one to share cooking responsibilities.

“They’re often facing a higher burden or time scarcity, which means they just might not have the money, but they just don’t have the time to invest in preparing a meal if they’re juggling multiple responsibilities,” she says.

Several food banks in North Carolina offer cooking classes and nutrition education to help families prepare healthy, affordable meals. The Share Our Strength Cooking Matters program is a volunteer-staffed cooking program available in parts of North Carolina. Program organizers say they see improved nutrition for the families involved, and some have even reported healthy weight loss.

Filed in: Farm & Ag, Health, Latest Headlines, News

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