Courtesy of AustinTalks

On Wednesday nights this summer, 10 West Side parents gather to read food labels, try new recipes and cook a new meal for their families. Through the program My FRESH Table, the nonprofit A House In Austin gives families a hands-on opportunity to learn to make healthier and affordable choices when shopping for food for their families.

“What we find is that some of our young families and those who don’t have full literacy or understanding, go to the store and it’s very overwhelming,” co-executive director Lynette Kelly-Bell said. “And what ends up happening is they stick to what they know, and that can be the same three meals or five meals that they’re just consistently preparing without variation.”

During the four-week cooking course, parents prepare a nutritious meal on-site using recipes adapted and created by the organization’s staff, many of whom are parents themselves. The learning doesn’t stop then, as they receive free ingredients to take home so they can make the meal for a second time.

The recipes for spaghetti squash and rutabaga are some of their favorites.

Many of the participating families have a household income below the poverty line and can’t afford to buy food or produce they do not know. With this program, they can learn how to use healthier ingredients and try them without having to take the risk of purchasing something that could go to waste.

“Once we expose them to the different vegetables they can use as opposed to processed foods that they’re used to buying, it opens up a whole new world for them,” Kelly-Bell said.

Teaching parents to make healthier choices also calls for teaching them how to read food labels, help them understand what they mean and whether each ingredient is beneficial to their bodies.

“Education and exposure helps them make better decisions when it comes to purchasing food,” Kelly-Bell said.

She said there have been families who switched to more nutritious ingredients to make their household recipes, like swapping white sugar for brown sugar or using wild rice instead of white rice.

My FRESH Table is one of several free programs to support and empower parents and children, as part of A House in Austin’s mission. The organization also offers early childhood education where young kids develop important skills through play, such as fine and gross motor skills and self-expression. While their children attend this programs, parents can remain on-site to attend parent support programming.

This includes parent chats, a space where parents can share their experiences, “their highs and lows,” and find support. Led by a licensed social worker, this offers a space for parents to recharge and discuss parenting topics with other parents.

Parents and toddlers can also attend the “boppin’ babies” music classes where young children are exposed to musical patterns, drumming and singing.