July 17th, 2024

Cooking program offers education, nutrition in money-saving way

By KENDALL KING on November 24, 2022.

Big Cook participants came together Nov. 19 to make a variety of meals in large batches, which were then distributed between each participant.--SUBMITTED PHOTO


A community cooking initiative is helping Hatters to eat healthy while saving on money and time.

Called the Big Cook, the initiative brings community members together for a one-day cooking session where each person helps to cook a variety of large-batch meals, which are then frozen and divided equally between the group.

The concept was originally developed by three local authors – Deanna Siemens, Joanne Smith and Lorelei Thomas – who promoted it as a fun activity to do with friends. But it was adopted into a public initiative approximately 10 years ago by Hatter Annie Anderson, who found it benefited community members in a multitude of ways.

“Many people have financial stress, time stress and just emotional stress around cooking,” Anderson told the News. “But this concept really addresses that stress.”

Hosted several times a year, participants must buy into the event with the amount covering a $50 organizational fee and the cost of meal ingredients – which Anderson purchases ahead of time.

Participants then gather on the scheduled date and get to work cooking an array of meals Anderson has found to be popular through her years of hosting Big Cooks.

Usually participants spend around 10 hours cooking the meals. However, Anderson ensures they take regular breaks throughout the day by cooking and serving them breakfast and lunch.

“It’s great teamwork building,” Anderson said of the initiative. “And it’s also great to help people actually learn to cook. There’s a lot of people that don’t know how to cook.”

While the buy-in – which begins at $250 per person – could be a discouragement for some, Anderson says participants actually save money on the cost of each portion, compared to what they would spend if they made each meal themselves.

During the most recent Nov. 19 Big Cook, participants each paid a $540 buy-in, but left with 26 frozen meals with a minimum of six portions per meal, resulting in a cost of $3.46 per portion.

Returning participant Krista Worobec says her family sometimes stretches portions even further by pairing them with frozen vegetables, or fresh salad, then saving leftovers for next-day lunches.

Anderson, who works with Medicine Hat’s Community Food Connections to host, plans to continue offering public Big Cook events, especially as more people are affected by the rising cost of living.

“Now with the cost of food, the need is greater than ever,” she said.

For upcoming Big Cook dates, visit Anderson’s ‘Smoking Hot Cooks’ Facebook page.

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