Cooking Matters at Highland Valley UMC

contributed by Caroline Loftin

Cooking Matters is a program designed with the goal of eliminating childhood hunger through healthy food and education. Embraced as a ministry by many churches, it brings a congregation and community together at the table to learn about the benefits of preparing and sharing a meal with others.

Highland Valley United Methodist recently embraced the teachings of Cooking Matters with much success. The mission of feeding their community was not a new idea for the church. They utilize a food pantry and serve free weekly dinners, but they believe their service could reach further.

They hosted a central district youth event focused on fighting food insecurity and childhood literacy called ‘Imprint’ over the summer. The event partnered with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, as well as 200k More Reasons, an Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church initiative. Through a grant from 200k More Reasons and the relationships created at Imprint, Cooking Matters found a new home at Highland Valley.

A survey by APCO Insight revealed that low-income families view cost as the primary barrier to healthy eating. Through Cooking Matters, Highland Valley hopes to offer holistic training for families who desire healthier lifestyles without breaking the bank. The teachings inspire more frequent cooking at home and encourage healthier and cost-effective shopping habits. This ministry emphasizes budget and time commitment when deciding what to cook and offers individual modifications for less stressful meal planning.

“The Cooking Matters classes have provided a unique opportunity to invite more people from the food pantry and surrounding community not just to attend a class but to share a meal,” said Highland Valley’s Director of Youth Ministries, Matt Taylor.

Children, youth, and adults of all ages and backgrounds are invited to serve by helping set up, distributing necessary items, bringing food to tables, and cleaning up each week. It’s a collaborative effort to nurture community and efficiency. As instruction wraps each week, volunteers and attendees share the meal together before leading into a time of worship.

Through a national study of 1,600 Cooking Matters participants, research found they had more confidence in preparing food at home and saw fewer barriers to creating healthy and affordable meals. Highland Valley UMC is well on its way to establishing this confidence in its community, keeping every family, regardless of income, physically and spiritually fed.

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