Read the original article by Erin Kidd from the Independent Tribune.
KANNAPOLIS – The Cabarrus Health Alliance is teaching churches how to have healthier congregations.
The alliance was awarded a Diabetes Awareness and Advocacy grant this past year from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Using those funds, it developed a Faithful Kitchens Program for local churches.
The Faithful Kitchens Certificate Program consists of a four-step process where church staff and pastors work with the program coordinator to achieve official certification and recognition of their healthy kitchens.
Churches the alliance partnered with for the first year of this grant were Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Kannapolis; Centergrove Road Church of Christ in Kannapolis; Crown in Glory Lutheran Church in Salisbury and Grace Lutheran Church in Concord.
“Essentially, the churches we worked with this year are churches we’ve worked with for a long time,” Meghan Charpentier, manager of Faithful Kitchens, said. “We’ve just built great relationships with them and they all have kitchens and all serve food to their congregations.”
Charpentier said a lot of churches, especially those in the Bible belt, don’t always serve the healthiest food. This program set out to change that trend and provide diabetes and nutrition education.
“We want to train the kitchen staff to try to choose healthier options to serve the community,” Charpentier said. “Often times it is fried chicken and mac and cheese for meals.”
In order to create healthy church kitchens, an inventory of current practices, recipes and policies were reviewed at each church. The churches then passed out a survey to their members to help identify types of recipes they wanted to see implemented.
Each church also completed an inventory of kitchen equipment to help the program identify barriers to meal preparation in terms of equipment that the grant may help overcome. Grant funds were used to provide churches with kitchen equipment they lacked.
Then, kitchen staff came to the Cabarrus Health Alliance for nutrition training using an Eat Smart, Live Well curriculum.
“We gave them the basic rundown of nutrition education, teaching them how to read labels and choose lower sodium options,” Charpentier said. “We talked to them about portion sizes, the proper serving of what you need to have, and taught them three new healthy recipes.”
The recipes were based on the surveys completed by congregations. The kitchen staffs were taught how to make turkey chili, butternut squash macaroni and cheese and black-eyed pea salad.
Charpentier said these are three cost-effective recipes and the program attempts to stress how money can be saved in the long run if spent on healthier food.
“We are trying to show people it’s not always too expensive and we try to equate health to medications. It ends up being a lot better because it’s going to prevent that down the road,” she said. “We want them to always have that in the back of their mind. Eating healthier can prevent medications and unwanted doctor’s visits.”
Following the nutrition training, the kitchen staffs were each asked to create their own food policy. From not offering salt shakers when serving meals to making sure water is always available at those meals, Charpentier said each church selected something different.
These policies were signed by the pastor of each church and William Pilkington, health director for the Cabarrus Health Alliance.
During the month of June, formal recognitions of the new kitchen policies were celebrated at the four churches. Each church held an unveiling event for the policies where they cooked the healthier options and showed a documentary called “Before You Eat the Church Food,” Which details how unhealthy foods and sedentary lifestyles contribute to obesity and diabetes epidemics.
“It’s such a prominent issue in the community, we need to make these changes,” Charpentier said. “We know not all churches will quit with their hot dog sales, but we know that small changes overtime will have people expecting different things. There are different options out there and we are just trying to encourage other choices.”
Now, the alliance is searching for more churches that want to get involved. Any church interested in applying for a similar diabetes awareness program can call 704-920-1337. Applications for new churches are now being accepted.
“It’s been really successful and we are excited to see where this will go,” Charpentier said.