Cooking up better health

Extension's Michael Stratten with teen participants from NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center.

On a Wednesday night in North Minneapolis, teenage boys were busy chopping bell peppers and broccoli to top a veggie-packed pizza. They were in the teaching kitchen at the Robert R. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) with Extension nutrition educator Michael Stratten.

Before starting in on the recipe, Stratten asked each teen how he was doing. Their struggles from the past week weren’t small, but they shared them—and their successes, too. Then, Stratten led a short lesson about nutrition and how eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help prevent serious problems like diabetes and heart disease.

For Stratten, nutrition education is more than just a job; it’s an opportunity to strengthen his community. “Being a nutrition educator gives me the chance to build relationships, learning from one another as we work together to create a culture of health,” he says.

The teenagers were brought to the cooking class by Airrion Williams, a case manager at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, a local nonprofit. Williams met Stratten years ago and continues to bring the young men he works with to Stratten’s nutrition classes. That check-in on struggles and successes at the beginning of class makes a difference in how the teens relate to Stratten. And the classes make them more conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies, Willams says.

Turkey burgers are delicious. I could eat five of these,” participant Muhammad Blount exclaims during Stratten’s class. “So this is lean meat?”

Educators like Stratten understand how to best reach the youth and families they work with. “They’re advocates for their community,” says Cassie Silveira, an Extension educator in health and nutrition who directs Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.