Colorado's SNAP-Ed program provides evidence-based and skill-building nutrition education to empower participants to make healthier food choices and a live a physically active lifestyle. Colorado SNAP-Ed partnered with Cooking Matters Colorado, one of the state’s implementing agencies, to deliver programming. In 2021, Cooking Matters (CM) began working with Metro State University (MSU) to provide food skills education and raise awareness about the on-campus food pantry. The Roadrunner Food Pantry, which serves MSU students, operated in a 100 sq-foot space until the fall of 2022, when it relocated to a 1000 sq-foot facility and relaunched as Rowdy’s Corner. The new facility is set up as a small grocery store with a client-choice model and a wider variety of inventory, including fresh produce and refrigerated items.
Food insecurity among college students is a significant problem affecting many students nationwide. Challenges contributing to this problem include the high cost of living, limited resources, lack of access to healthy food options, stigma and shame, and insufficient awareness. Addressing food insecurity among college students requires a holistic approach that includes addressing challenges and implementing solutions to provide students access to healthy food options on campus.
Cooking Matters offers recipe demonstrations in the pantry and support for students to use the available ingredients. Through these recipe demonstrations, students at MSU Denver are learning to assemble healthy meals using Rowdy’s Corner’s food and Cooking Matters Recipe Frameworks.
For each demo, Cooking Matters coordinates with staff at Rowdy’s Corner to secure kitchen space and volunteers to plan the demo content. Each cooking demonstration includes only ingredients available to students at Rowdy’s Corner.
A staff member who works for Cooking Matters and leads these demos, said, “I go in the day before to see what they have an abundance of and use that to create one or more meals. I always make sure to keep the dietitian involved every step of the way. Last week we noticed when we went shopping for the class that they had so many apples, plain oatmeal packets, apple cinnamon oatmeal packets, shredded prepared chicken, beans, rice, tortillas, and a ton of spices. We want to make sure we are teaching healthy eating but also the pantry is set up so that it is a customer-based type of shopping, we are only there to help, not to push any ideas.”
The staff member shared that for the recent cooking demo, he taught students how to cook fresh apples and cinnamon into a compote to create a homemade version of the apple cinnamon oatmeal. He also taught students how to make burritos utilizing the beans, rice, corn, and optional chicken in stock that week. He shared, “It is important for me not to bring anything that the students could not get at the food pantry.”
After each demo, students receive a take-home recipe for what they prepared that day so they can continue practicing these food skills at home. In many cases, he shares a recipe and the “framework” he used to develop the recipe. Cooking Matters Recipe Frameworks walk through the steps and example ingredients to make common meals like stir-fries, soups, salads, smoothies, omelets, grain bowls, and more. Having a framework, as opposed to a recipe, allows users to create meals with the ingredients that are available to them, on sale, or that fit their personal tastes and preferences. Flexible tools like this reinforce food skills beyond just following a recipe.
These demonstrations are a big hit. Cooking Matters educates up to 50 students in just an hour and a half. Students get a live cooking demonstration and can also ask any specific questions they have and receive a hot meal prepared from food found in the pantry, while shopping at Rowdy’s Corner.
In addition to the demonstrations, Cooking Matters recruits for classes at the food pantry for students who want to continue learning food skills. Cooking Matters is using its connections to local farmers and grocery stores to support Rowdy’s Corner with increasing donations of locally grown produce and healthful ingredients. Cooking Matters is also updating the Food Pantry Toolkit, which provides suggestions for display cases, educational signage, and other engagements to promote healthful ingredients in the client-choice model.
Cooking Matters tracks PSE changes implemented (MT5) at the pantry and the estimated reach through this partnership (ST7).