Healthy meals don’t have to complicated or costly

Right away, Darnell Rowden wants to break down any anxieties.

For some, she knows, fixing a meal can be a little daunting. It may seem hard, the ingredients too expensive.

“Pretend you’re at the food channel,” Darnell Rowden tells the group ready for a cooking lesson. “Here in a minute, we’re going to go into the kitchen.”

The four women and one man sitting in front of Rowden are at the Heart-n-Hand food pantry in Belton, where once a month she and Amy Bowman, of the University of Missouri Extension, teach a cooking class. The goal isn’t to fix anything fancy but to provide families on a budget with a quick and easy — and most important, healthy — meal they can cook at home, using food often available in the pantry.

One thing hunger researchers find is that struggling families often resort to buying fatty and less nutritious food because it’s cheaper. Many think they can’t eat healthy because they can’t afford it.

Rowden and Bowman want to dispel that myth in their classes.

On this day, they’re cooking cheesy chicken-broccoli casserole. All you need is some cheese, some chicken, some creamed soup, broccoli and rice.

“This is one of the easiest recipes you’re every going to make,” Bowman says once they make their way into the cramped kitchen.

Christina Painter watches, takes mental notes. Times are tough these days for her family.

“If I didn’t have my food stamps and this place, I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Painter, a mom of three.

Rowden, who has been teaching at the Belton pantry for three years, explains to the group that recipes are often interchangeable. If it calls for chicken, you can use fresh chicken or canned chicken or turkey.

“Whichever is cheaper,” Bowman says.

The pair also tells the group that they can use fresh, canned or frozen vegetables for meals. Again, whichever is cheaper. The key to canned, says Rowden, is draining the liquid and rinsing the vegetables.

“It’ll take some of that sodium off,” she says.

Within 15 minutes, the meal is nearly prepared. And Rowden has already started on pumpkin bread. Kids love it, she tells the group.

The two are already thinking ahead to the next class and what they may cook.

Sometimes, in the cooking classes, the two teachers may focus on recipes that use food the pantry has an abundance of. Sometimes that may be beans, often sweet potatoes. Right now, it’s figs.

“Anybody have any good fig recipes?” Bowman asks, laughing.

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