When the community works together, great things happen. That’s what’s happening at Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHSO).
A mutually beneficial partnership with VHSO, the University of Arkansas Extension and the Fayetteville Public Library brought Veterans to participate in Whole Health cooking classes June 23.
“Before this class, I didn’t want to leave my house or talk to people,” said Linda Coble, Air Force Veteran. “I wasn’t motivated to cook, move or do anything really.”
This project came to life through VA Whole Health. Whole Health is a cutting-edge approach to care that supports Veteran’s health and well-being as a whole person. It focuses on what is important to Veterans – not “What’s the matter with you,” but “What matters to you.”
The classes teach simple, basic recipes with a different focus each month. Mediterranean cooking, grilling and food safety, low carb and diabetic diets are some past themes.
The VHSO Whole Health Program provides crockpots, blenders, steamers and fresh healthy ingredients for three to five recipes at no cost to Veterans each month. The kitchen items for each meal are delivered to Veterans for the virtual classes.
The delivery of supplies, online classes and support allows rural Veterans to participate in a first-rate cooking class from the comfort of their homes.
As COVID restrictions lift, some Veterans are moving to in-person classes.
Veterans get a recipe book and work together in small groups to cook each recipe. They taste test, discuss lessons learned and enjoy good food and comradery with fellow Veterans.
“I am enjoying the people and cooking,” said Coble. “We cooked a chicken recipe today. I think I have all the ingrediencies at home – everything but a lemon. After this class I am going to stop and pick up a lemon and make this dish in my own kitchen.”
Veterans of all ages can attend the free classes in a state-of-the-art culinary space at the Fayetteville Public Library. The restaurant-worthy kitchen has prep stations, professional ranges and cooktops and cleanup stations. A full-length hood provides maximum ventilation coverage. The large space allows for easy maneuvering.
The program teaches Veterans and their caregivers the benefits of healthy living. Studies show that healthy diet can positively impact issues like chronic stress, diabetes, heart disease, mental health and personal development. Participants also enjoy a sense of community and building confidence in cooking skills.
The collaboration within VHSO is just as impressive. Dietitians, mental health professionals, peer support specialists and Whole Health employees plan menus, shop and support Veterans’ treatment and person health plans.
“The VHSO cooking classes have been a true collaborative effort that has strengthened relationships within VHSO as well as with our community partners,” said Allison Wright, LCSW, local recovery coordinator. “These classes have demonstrated how Whole Health and Mental Health programs can work together in an integrated approach to care; empowering Veterans with knowledge, skills and resources that support their efforts to live a healthy life.