Sharing Meals, Sharing Health

Carolyn teaches community members how to make meals that are nutritious and delicious. Church Health’s classes use a Culinary Medicine curriculum, based on the nine principles of the Mediterranean Diet.

Shared meals in a congregation are often a consistent part of the Wednesday night gatherings or following Saturday and Sunday services. Making changes for the better, however, whether that is including a vegetarian option, reducing unnecessary sodium, or even incorporating local produce into the menu, can seem a daunting task. Perhaps start with substituting hummus and veggies for the standard donuts and chocolate chip muffins during fellowship hour—no change is too small!

Instead of an immediate menu overhaul, picka time to host a “tasting menu” and have people vote on their favorite options.

By spending this time and energy providing for the physical health of congregants, greater mental and social health will result. Carolyn Nichols, nutrition education coordinator at Church Health in Memphis, Tennessee, has interacted with numerous faith community members during her tenure teaching and demonstrating healthy meal options and offers pointers for transitioning to shared meals that support health improvement.

First and foremost, Carolyn advises to pinpoint a dedicated member of the congregation to be the head of wellness efforts. To promote better nutrition in your church, this person should serve as the main communication between the kitchen staff or volunteers and the rest of the congregation. Having one person (or a small committee) to channel important information through increases efficiency and keeps everyone focused on the goals of healthier food choices.

Once you have a team of people committed to better food options, Carolyn advises a slow introduction of healthier food into the kitchen. Instead of an immediate menu overhaul, pick a time to host a “tasting menu” and have people vote on their favorite options. A fun event like this gives everyone the opportunity to have their voices heard and also to see firsthand that healthy food can be delicious as well.

If your congregation has serious misgivings about the time and energy required to cook healthy options, Carolyn suggests that a variation of a tasting menu, where the healthy options are given as a side option regularly throughout the calendar year, is also an effective way to create continuity and familiarity around these new options.

Be creative in this endeavor. Do you have a volunteer-run kitchen? Then try to carpool to a local community center or community cooking class to learn together about how to alter recipes to make them more nutritious.

Use your resources as well. Is there a church in your community that is hosting a healthy weekly dinner? Ask them to share their methods and recipes. You will have an example and support and they will have the opportunity to share their successes.

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