Maria had completely given up on cooking. No matter what she did, her 10-year-old daughter, Victoria, just wouldn’t eat any vegetables or try new foods. “She was just too stubborn. She wouldn’t eat anything, so I completely gave up trying to cook for her or having family dinners.”
Maria, weeks away from welcoming the birth of her second daughter, knew that she needed to make some changes when she came across a flyer for a healthy cooking class at her local Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office. The opportunity presented itself for her and Victoria to begin making changes together. The timing was serendipitous: “I wanted to take the class because I didn’t know what to do with her [Victoria] around dinner anymore. When I told her what I was doing, she immediately asked if she could come along.” For the moment, carving out two hours a week to spend together was a gift on its own. Victoria was adamant about joining her mother for the class. As the older sister, she wanted to get involved in this process so she could better help her mom with the arrival of her baby sister.
Each week, Maria and her daughter joined seven other moms at the Plymouth WIC office where they tasted barley for the first time, learned how to identify whole grains, and tried their hands at making their own hummus. Every step of the way, Victoria was engaged with the class, asking questions and learning the importance of healthy eating. With each meal, Victoria fed off of the excitement of the other participants in the class and began to try new things. Maria watched with pride as her daughter’s palate began to expand, first through trying new foods and then enjoying the foods she would never have touched in the weeks prior to class. Maria began to see the value of getting Victoria involved in food decisions and meal preparation.
On the 5th week, the group embarked on their grocery store challenge. Maria, one week away from her due date, needed to take every opportunity she could to rest. In response to her mother’s needs, Victoria confidently took charge and went shopping for the ingredients to make a healthy meal for less than $10. Maria said the grocery store trip really helped put things into perspective for her daughter. “It’s so hard for a 10 year old to really grasp the need to shop on a budget, but she was able to look at unit pricing and hear why it was important. It opened up her eyes on how to plan meals and do it cheaply. It helped her understand the concept of budgeting.”
With help from her daughter, Maria learned that cooking healthy meals can be affordable. “We eat a lot more whole grains, and I found that adding some simple grains like rice or barley can help spread out a meal. By filling our meals with some rice and vegetables and adding just a little meat can really stretch my shopping budget.” Maria and Victoria also worked together as a family to cook meals. “Throughout the week we talk about what we make and put together our shopping list. While at the store, Victoria will pick out the vegetables she wants to try while I wait in line at the deli. I’m no longer just the ‘bossy mom’ because she gets to be a part of deciding what we make, and she knows why eating healthy is important.”
Maria and Victoria were unable to make it to the final class. A few hours before graduation was supposed to begin, Maria went into labor with her second daughter, Brooke. Victoria was heartbroken that she would be unable to join the rest of the group for the final class, but she was proud of the knowledge that she had already learned and was ready to set a good example for her new sister. Maria still couldn’t believe the perfect timing of the class. “It came when I needed it the most. I learned how to make better decisions for my kids and involve them in those decisions.” More importantly, “it got Victoria ready to be the helper I needed.”
Maria and her daughter’s new habits have already begun to impact the newest member of their family. “I am really excited for Brooke to grow up seeing us eat dinner as a family each night – something Victoria and I rarely did before.” After coming home from school, Victoria helps her mom cook dinner and then they sit down at the table to eat together. “We pull Brooke up to the table as well, whether she is sleeping, playing or eating with us. I am so happy for this to become a tradition for her. Victoria and I both learned the importance of cooking and eating together as a family.”