Chef instructor Mary Helen Hawkins preps vegetables for a quick, healthy meal at the Culinary Arts Institute at Mississippi University for Women. Hawkins and other CAI instructors and students foster a university-community connection by offering periodic cooking classes open to the public. The W's Project CHEW program also serves healthy snacks at public events and takes lessons on healthy food choices into area schools. Photo by: Courtesy photo
October 9, 2019 10:22:39 AM
While the primary focus of the Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) at Mississippi University for Women is to inspire and train the next generation of chefs, strengthening the university-community connection is another aim. The CAI, with its commercial kitchen and experienced faculty, is a resource aspiring community cooks and food fans can periodically access to boost skills. One-time classes or workshops are generally offered each semester. And through its Project CHEW -- Cook Healthy, Eat Well -- program, The W is out and about in Columbus, encouraging healthier food choices and cooking techniques, often using its 24-foot, fully-equipped mobile culinary unit to help spread the message.
This semester's university outreach includes two Passport to Wellness events set for this Saturday and next Tuesday. Passport to Wellness, funded through a grant from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, is designed to address the problem of unhealthy lifestyle choices relating to diet and physical activity. On Saturday, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., CAI chef instructor Mary Helen Hawkins will demonstrate how to prepare quick, healthy meals and also teach proper knife techniques in the CAI demo kitchen. On Tuesday, from noon-1 p.m., Dahl will teach healthy eating tips in a different location on campus. (While these sessions are currently full, a waiting list is available at muw.edu/outreach/projects/passporttowellness.)
Making better choices when it comes to the fuel we put in our bodies can change quality of life.
"Healthy food can taste good," Hawkins said. Finding healthy substitutes, portion size and meal planning are key. Hawkins suggests creating a menu and grocery list for the week, keeping in mind what's on sale and what's in season. It also helps to plan a menu with foods that can be prepared in multiple ways, allowing cooks to purchase food in bulk and save money.
"I think it's important to start out small and set realistic goals," Hawkins said. "Reading food labels will help ensure that no food has to be off limits. Your favorite foods just need to be eaten in moderation and with proper portion control."
The chef instructor recommends keeping mealtime exciting by trying a variety of new healthy dishes. Make it a family event.
"It's a great way to spend quality time together when everyone is chopping and cooking together, with the added benefit of feeling better and with more energy," she added.
Barefoot on the Bridge
Along with what we eat, how we exercise body and mind contributes to well-being. To that end, Passport to Wellness will offer a free Barefoot on the Bridge community yoga event Tuesday, Oct. 15, from 6-7 p.m., on the Old Highway 82 Pedestrian Bridge at the Columbus Riverwalk. The W's Project CHEW "food truck" will be on hand with healthy smoothies. The first 20 yoga participants to register on-site receive a free yoga mat, said Ashley Gressett of the MUW Office of Outreach & Innovation. No yoga experience is required.
In addition to Barefoot, the Project CHEW mobile unit, manned by CAI students and staff, makes appearances throughout the city, including at the local farmers market and events such as Little Hands Big Trucks, the Holiday Farmers Market and Wassail Fest. Project CHEW also goes into area schools with kid-centered lessons that make nutrition fun.
"We like to start out with kids when they're young, to introduce them to healthier eating habits," Hawkins remarked.
Other community classes
An overall spotlight on healthier choices doesn't mean life can't be a little indulgent, in moderation. Two upcoming CAI classes open to the public are, on Oct. 26, "Sweet and Savory Hand Pies," and on Nov. 2, a "Holiday Cakes" class will be offered. Both take place from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on campus. Cost of each is $60. Inquire about registration at 662-241-7472.
Editor's note: Some information included in this story is courtesy of Adam Minichino of MUW University Relations.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.