Cooking and nutrition programming engages Fairfax and Arlington seniors

Kathryn Strong, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for Fairfax County, believes in the value of independent and health-conscious senior residents. To aid the growing population of seniors in their quest for healthier lifestyles, Strong has spearheaded senior cooking and nutrition programming in Fairfax and Arlington.senior-cooking

Strong’s senior cooking and nutrition workshops are held at senior centers and at faith-based and civic organizations around the community. Workshops incorporate cooking demonstrations, lectures, and discussions on a variety of topics. The programming emphasizes the benefits of healthy eating — particularly for seniors — which include reduced risks for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, bone loss, cancer, and anemia. Eating well and being physically active also help to manage chronic diseases and can reduce high blood pressure, lower high cholesterol, and control blood glucose.

“The cooking demonstrations are the most popular and the most fun and interactive,” said Strong. “Usually we have chosen a theme that fits with healthy eating goals. At this time of year, we might do a cooking demonstration on celebrating farmers market fall produce. The cooking demonstration includes a recipe that features fall produce from Virginia. We talk about why eating plenty of produce is beneficial to living a healthy lifestyle, and we go over some of the key food safety practices and handling techniques.”

As a result of what they learned at these workshops, a group of participants reported that they eat more lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains, and seasonings without sodium. In addition, they said they consume fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts, and they prepare more meals and snacks at home.

“I think the most beneficial aspect of these workshops is getting our seniors excited about eating healthy foods and living an active lifestyle,” said Strong. “Their participation in our sessions helps keep them engaged, productive, and independent — which is a win in my book.”

More than 30 lectures and cooking demonstrations have reached more than 700 seniors in Fairfax and Arlington counties from January through October of 2016.

Strong emphasizes that she couldn’t carry out these educational opportunities for local seniors without the help of the Fairfax Master Food Program volunteers who help organize each event.