OMAHA, Neb. -- Veterans participating in the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System’s “Desserts and Snacks to Fit Your Health” course at the Omaha VA Medical Center’s new Healthy Teaching Kitchen were in for an extra-special treat Friday, June 17.
The treat came in the form of retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Harrington, who served as the Healthy Teaching Kitchen’s “Guest Chef.”
Harrington, who serves as the chair of the Omaha VAMC’s Veterans Advisory Group, was asked to assist the course instructors in preparing several different snacks as part of the course’s “Recipe Substitution” class. Along with helping prepare a fruit pizza, Harrington also assisted the instructors in demonstrating how to make black bean brownies and a 4-Layer bean dip.
The class was attended by Veterans in person or by those who participated virtually at home.
Natalie VanKat, Healthy Teaching Kitchen Program coordinator and registered dietitian, said having Harrington participate in the class seemed like a great way to encourage Veteran involvement while also bringing additional awareness to the Healthy Teaching Kitchen. The Healthy Teaching Kitchen was recently opened this spring after a major construction effort.
“We have had several members of the Veterans Advisory Group attend one of our courses and (Harrington) seem rather interested in what we are doing here,” said VanKat. “I thought it would be fun to have him come in and join us as a guest chef.”
The Healthy Teaching Kitchen is designed to provide Veterans with opportunities to learn how to prepare healthy meals based upon their medical/health conditions. Classes include Diabetes Cooking Classes, Heart Healthy Cooking, Budgeting Cooking Classes, Anti-Inflammatory, Food and Mood, Intro to Cooking, Mediterranean Diet Cooking Class, Farmer’s Market Foods, Healthy Teaching Kitchen Class, and Kitchen Gadget Cooking Class, and a monthly Women’s only cooking class.
Veterans can participate either in person or through VA Video Connect.
For Harrington, working with the Healthy Teaching Kitchen staff brought back memories from the early days of his service in the Air Force. While helping prepare the 4-Layer Bean Dip – which was made with Garbanzo Beans – Harrington recalled a time years ago when he served on “KP” duty shortly after graduating from basic military training.
“(Me) and another guy ended up working with a baker, who showed us how to make baked goods and pastries,” Harrington said. “It was pretty good duty… plus I got to eat a lot of fresh-baked goods.”
Harrington also took time to talk to the Veterans about the work he and other members of the Omaha Veterans Advisory Group do on behalf of the fellow Veterans, providing important Veteran inputs and suggestions to the senior leaders of VA NWIHCS. “Our goal is to make health care better for all Veterans,” he said.
Following the hour-long class, Harrington said he enjoyed the experience of getting to speak with his fellow Veterans, telling them about his military experiences and the work he now does at the Omaha VAMC. He also enjoyed getting the opportunity to try his hand at some new cooking techniques.
“It was a great time,” he said. “I learned a lot. Plus, it was a lot of fun working with the Teaching Kitchen instructors. You can tell that they really enjoy what they’re doing and they believe in the services they are providing to our Veterans.”
VanKat said she appreciated Harrington’s willingness to participate in the class.
“It went perfectly well,” she said. “He was comical and he was interesting. I think the Veterans really enjoyed having him there participating in the class.”
To learn more about the health teaching kitchen, check out the website at https://www.va.gov/nebraska-western-iowa-health-care/programs/nutrition-food-and-dietary-care/