University of Georgia
June 2015
Health
A lesson in nutrition

Benjamin Gray cooks up recipes and delicious tips to help University of Georgia students stay healthy and fit more vegetables into their diets. A nutrition education coordinator at the University Health Center, he teaches classes through the Nutrition Kitchen program. (Credit: Robert Newcomb/UGA)

A lesson in nutrition

Students cook up healthier lifestyles through UGA’s Nutrition Kitchen.

The University of Georgia offers a variety of dining options for students, staff and faculty. With five dining commons, three food courts and nine eateries, the amount of food available could result in unhealthy eating habits. To combat this issue, the University Health Center provides extensive resources to educate and equip students in healthy living.

Housed within the health center, the health promotion department supports health-enhancing behaviors through programs relating to alcohol education, sexual health, relationship and sexual violence prevention and stress. These programs are designed to encourage open and honest dialogue about real issues affecting students and the community.

One of the most frequented programs is the Nutrition Kitchen, where students are taught ways to prepare simple and delicious meals on a tight budget.

Established in 2008, the university implemented this program as an add-on to the health center facility. A kitchen was built to engage students in a practical setting for nutritional education.

Benjamin Gray, the nutrition education coordinator who teaches Nutrition Kitchen courses, said the classes “chip away negative barriers surrounding healthy food and wellness.”

Students learn that preparing healthy meals and eating right is not as difficult as it may seem. During each cooking class, Gray walks step-by-step through instructions, detailing information about how much each ingredient costs and how to incorporate vegetables into new and old dishes.

Each class costs $5 for fee-paying students and $10 for individuals who do not pay fees. However, many resident assistants on campus offer this program to their floor or hall for free.

Gray has found that it is more beneficial when resident assistants bring the class to their residents. Students no longer have to worry about the cost, and it becomes a time for them to learn about healthy living and bond with their friends.

Courtney Jackson, a third-year biological engineering major, is a resident assistant in Russell Hall. She completed the program in early April after hearing about the Nutrition Kitchen through a friend.

“There are many benefits to taking residents to the Nutrition Kitchen, but the main [benefit] is learning about how to make wise choices when it comes to meal preparation.”

— Resident assistant Courtney Jackson

During Jackson’s class, Gray taught students how to prepare honey citrus salmon. When surveyed after the program, all of Jackson’s residents said they really enjoyed the meal and felt they could incorporate these healthy choices when they move off campus in the fall.

For resident assistants, this program is an excellent time to build community on the hall while teaching students about healthy options they can make in their daily life.

“There are many benefits to taking residents to the Nutrition Kitchen, but the main [benefit] is learning about how to make wise choices when it comes to meal preparation,” Jackson said.

Christine Rogers, a second year finance major, works in O-House—the student residence more formally known as Oglethorpe House—and came to the same conclusion. She went on to talk about news ways to add healthy elements to meals her residents already knew how to make.

“Ben incorporated a lot of vegetables in ways you wouldn’t think of using them,” she said. “He helps people realize tacos can have zucchini in it, but still be delicious.”

In Rogers’ cooking class, she and her residents made quick chicken tacos and Tex-Mex rice.

It can seem like a lot of money is needed in order to eat healthy, Gray said, but he strategically chooses meals that will fit within the college budget. He does everything in his power to ensure that students learn the most from his courses and realize they can implement health eating into their lives.

In the future, he hopes to expand the cooking and food preparation portion of the health center through the peer nutrition educators. These junior and senior dietetics and nutrition majors take a course over the summer and are certified to teach nutrition kitchen classes to UGA students. The goal is to reach students where they are in the residence halls.

For more information on the Nutrition Kitchen, call 706-542-8690 or visit http://www.uhs.uga.edu/nutrition/kitchen-faq.html.

— Samantha Keitt, Public Affairs Division