Cooking Matters Spotlight: Chef Rebecca Coatney
Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters™ empowers families at risk of hunger with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals. With the help of volunteer culinary and nutrition experts, course participants learn to select nutritious, low-cost ingredients and prepare them in ways that provide the best nourishment possible for their families.
Chef Rebecca Coatney has been volunteering with Cooking Matters since the summer of 2009. By sharing her strength and passion for cooking, many children and families have taken Chef Rebecca’s classes and have learned that cooking can not only be healthy and affordable, but it can be fun as well. She has a degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI and has over 25 years of culinary experience including, but not limited to, Assistant Restaurant Manager, Assistant Pastry Chef at The Town and Country Club in Saint Paul MN, Dining Room Manager for the University Club in Lincoln NE, Banquet Chef with Marriott Hotels, and extensive cooking experience for institutions.
Currently, Chef Rebecca is serving as the Kitchen Manager for Dawes Middle School with Lincoln Public Schools. She has been involved with Share Our Strength for 25 years, cooked at The Taste of Minnesota and performed demonstrations at The Taste of Omaha. Chef Rebecca volunteers as a Chef Instructor with the Cooking Matters program and she is very active with the wellness programs at Dawes Middle School. She also holds membership in the School Nutrition Association on the district, state and national level.
Chef Rebecca first became associated with Cooking Matters through its parent organization, Share Our Strength. She completed some nutrition education in conjunction with Johnson & Wales University and Share our Strength while in college, and she stayed involved because she felt that the food service industry must play an active role in ending childhood hunger and forming good nutritional habits. She feels that the most valuable lesson she has learned so far by volunteering with Cooking Matters is that hunger and undernourishment occur on all socio-economic levels here in the United States. She always lets her students in the Cooking Matters classroom know that there are no “bad” foods – only incorrect portion sizes.
In regards to healthy eating these days, Chef Rebecca believes that the biggest factor we need to address in promoting healthy eating habits is time management. By living in an “on the go” society, many kids don’t cook enough, but if we help teach families good meal planning strategies and food preparation techniques, that will make it much easier. When we give families the tools and encourage them to plan, shop for and prepare meals together, their quality of life will improve.
Chef Rebecca was very excited about the USDA replacing the “My Food Pyramid” with “My Plate” because the My Plate makes teaching and learning good nutritional habits so much easier. She believes that the drive for better nutrition is really forcing everyone – consumers, producers, suppliers and food service industry leaders – to take a hard look at the whole facet of the food industry. Consumers are becoming much more aware and better label readers and we (the industry) need to be aggressive in meeting those demands. As a kitchen manager for a middle school, Chef Rebecca is working hard to bring in healthier new a la carte food items that are lower/reduced fat, baked instead of fried, lower sodium and 100 calorie packed foods for the kids.
Volunteering with Cooking Matters is important to Chef Rebecca because she has always appreciated the fact that the organization dedicates itself to fighting hunger here in the United States. She believes that due to economic conditions in the past decade, it has become increasingly evident that Cooking Matters is a necessary program in our country, and she wants to be part of an organization that is proactive rather than reactive. Chef Rebecca is honored to partner with the VNA of Omaha because the services they provide to the Omaha community places them in a unique position to be able to identify key concerns, such as lack of food, food desert areas and under nourished persons. It also means that we are not duplicating services in the area and allowing all the organizations and resources to be maximized. Cooking Matters is nationally and locally sponsored by ConAgra Foods® Foundation and Walmart, and is also a program of the Visiting Nurse Association in Omaha and Council Bluffs.
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