Saying Goodbye to our Beloved AmeriCorps Member, Annette!

Annette CDHCThinking back on my year as an AmeriCorps with Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program, many fond memories come to mind. There were certainly some low points (thinking I could roll a bin full of kitchen supplies off of a too-tall curb; the contents spilling out onto the cold, rainy, wintery pavement while cars drove by as I scrambled to pick everything up before all of Omaha knew of my mishap) but for the most part all of my recollections are positive. In order to feel like I am moving ahead in life, I must be working towards a greater goal of some kind. This is exactly the opportunity Cooking Matters presented me with.

“Cooking Matters empowers families with the skills to stretch their food budgets and cook healthy meals so their children get nutritious food at home.” What a mission to be a part of! Nutrition and healthy living have always been goals of mine. I have known, ever since I stopped eating Doritos with every meal, when I eat well and exercise I am able to live a happier, more fulfilling life. It is extremely satisfying to see folks from all walks of life realizing this for the first time at age 30, 50, even 60 after participating in one of our Cooking Matters classes. Here is what makes all of the kitchen supply-lugging, towel cleaning, and dish wishing worth it: “I have learned that eating healthy makes me feel better throughout the day. My family also enjoyed the recipes. I have cooked them on several occasions. I have learned to appreciate my health and my family’s health and enjoy life and live.” (Participant from a Cooking Matter for Adults class at CharlesDrewHealthCenter)

Teaching others to cook healthy meals on a dime (and by that I mean under $10.00 for a family of four) is another aspect of the Cooking Matters curriculum I feel strongly about. As an AmeriCorps, believe it or not, I do not have wads of cash to throw at fancy organic food stores and neither do the individuals we teach. If you do have the cash to buy lobster and caviar a couple of times a week, by all means spend away and invite me over for dinner. Most people do not, though, so it is necessary to equip ourselves with the tools to cook up delicious, seemingly gourmet meals on a limited budget. It is a common misperception that we have to spend way beyond our meager food budgets in order to eat healthy, tasteful foods. This is simply not true and I love it when we can prove this to our participants time and time again. Just try our Ratatouille or Barley Jambalaya recipe; we can prove it to you.Annette Food Day

As the year draws to a close, I am realizing how grateful I am for the opportunity to learn these real-life skills of eating healthy on a budget and to allow others to learn them as well. It was a wonderful mission to work towards this year and I hope that I am given another opportunity to work for Cooking Matters, or another similar organization, in the future. In what other employment capacity can you can steal tips from chefs on how to perfectly dice an onion, see a child’s face light up when you ask them to “be the chef” for the class, and talk passionately with others about whole grains, all while working towards the greater goal of helping others feel their best in this short life? If you have an answer for me, let me know. I would love to send them my resume.

Cooking for VNA to benefit Cooking Matters!

Cooking for VNAMay 8, 2014, 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. at the MidAmerica Center, Council Bluffs, IA

Cooking for VNA is a way for Council Bluffs community members to take action, help children and families, and enjoy a fun evening. Funds raised at the event will go toward the expansion of VNA’s Cooking Matters™ program within the Council Bluffs area. Enjoy a variety of delicious cuisine from the “Culinary Gems” of Council Bluffs.

Featured Chefs include: Ameristar Casino Chef Michael Booth, Barley’s Chef Jay Hartong, Cellar 19 Chef Jim Smart, Dixie Quicks Chef Brian Payne, Horseshoe Casino/L Pastries Chef Lorraine Howard and Hy-Vee Foods Chef Jessie Dolson. 

Join us for a fun evening that includes: Silent Auction, Musical Entertainment by E-String Band and a variety of incredible food.

VNA partners with Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger in the United States, to offer these free, hands-on courses which engage children and families at risk of hunger and malnutrition. After learning the basics of good nutrition, along with cooking and financial management skills, participants are empowered with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to make healthy and affordable snacks and meals. This results in healthier children who are ready to learn, and greater financial stability for participating families. For more information call Rilla Eaton at 402-930-4170 or visit

 Tickets are $50 in advance, $55 at the door.


Annette Drinks the Cooking Matters Kool Aid at Summit

As an AmeriCorps volunteer for Cooking Matters Omaha, I was given the opportunity to attend our national Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina. The November event promised to be one filled with interesting talks on a variety of Cooking Matters-related topics, endless networking, new ideas, and , of course, great food. Something that you must know about me is that I love to travel.  One of my favorite things to do is hop on a plane, travel to a far-off land, take in the sights, sounds, culture, and people of my chosen location, and leave feeling like I learned a bit more about our world. Yes, Raleigh, NC would do just fine. Not to mention they have great BBQ.

Upon arriving at our destination, we were warmly greeted by our shuttle driver, Dave, who called me “Miss Annette” and had that North Carolina drawl that is so endearing. After being showered with ideas of places to eat and things to do in Raleigh, we pulled into our home for the next few days, the Double Tree Hotel. We quickly ate our complimentary warm chocolate chip cookies and curled up in our beds to get some good rest for the following days.

As I sit here writing this, I realize I am having a difficult time deciphering one day from the next. It was a wonderful blur of motivational speeches, group discussions, connecting with others, and talking all things Cooking Matters. As a new employee it was really great for me to be able to sit back and simply learn. I spent most of my time just soaking in what others were saying about their program in their home state while jotting down notes about how we can improve our own.  I went to sessions focused on Cooking Matters at the Store, how to connect best with moms, how to use volunteers in the greatest capacity, and about all things AmeriCorps. All of these talks were extremely helpful, as well as motivational, and I left each feeling like I had learned something new.

I believe that one of the greatest ways we can learn and improve upon what we are doing (because as we know there is always room for improvement!) is through talking with others who share similar experiences. That’s exactly what Summit was all about. It was a way to bring everyone together who shares the same goal of Cooking Matters: to help families to shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget as part of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. We are all connected by this goal, but we all go about trying to reach in slightly different ways. This is where the learning comes in. If all of these people across the country share ideas about the best ways to carry out the objectives of Cooking Matters, the pool of ideas will grow to be so huge and all-encompassing that there is no way we can fail. After meeting many of these people who are working towards our goal, I am confident in our success of the task at hand. I truly have never met a more motivated, compassionate, “get-the-job-done” group of people and feel quite lucky to have gotten to participate in the event.

In the end, I was not able to test out the legitimacy of North Carolina BBQ. But the knowledge, skills, and motivation I received in its place were far more valuable than a slow-roasted pork shoulder, marinated in a vinegar-based sauce to perfection. I left wanting to shout on rooftops how wonderful our program is, feeling proud to be a part of our Omaha Cooking Matters family. Summit 2013: Success.

Meet Kiaya Brown, Cooking Matters AmeriCorps Extraordinaire!

My name is Kiaya Brown and I have just recently started working as a class coordinator for Cooking Matters at the VNA in Omaha, NE. I developed a passion for nutrition while I was in school for my undergraduate degree in athletic training. I was getting my minor in health so I took a few basic public health and nutrition classes and had an amazing experience with this one teacher in particular. It was like having an “ah-ha” moment for the course of the class. She changed my entire outlook on how I viewed nutrition. I grew up in the South so our family meals were not always the healthiest of cuisines. We ate a lot of comfort food and followed the culinary mantra that butter really does make everything better. After taking this course in college, through the next year all together I lost about 25 pounds, and felt the need to share with everyone all the things I had learned. I wanted everyone to have that same “ah-ha” moment that I did. That is why I decided to go the route of nutrition for my master’s degree.

I am currently working on my master’s in public health in nutrition through an online program at Liberty University. I was looking around online for something I could volunteer for that would help give me some community nutrition experience since I only had a few classes under my belt from my minor. When I ran across Cooking Matters I got really excited. It was a program that I believed to be so vital for our nation today. I learned through my experience that the only way to truly change a person’s heart about how to better his health is through education, and that is exactly what Cooking Matters is all about, educating people to give them the knowledge and tools to live a healthier lifestyle.

When I started volunteering, I absolutely fell in love with the program. Being around people that were just as excited about teaching others about nutrition as I am was great. The best part was being able to witness those “ah-ha” moments in every class that I volunteered for.  I feel so blessed that this volunteer position actually turned into a job for me and that everyday I am actually excited to come to work and really feel like I am making a difference in people’s lives. I feel like I am learning something new everyday and I am becoming better equipped to pursue a career in the public health field and to continue making a difference in people’s lives.


To learn more about Kiaya and the other Cooking Matters folks click on the link in the right hand corner!