Published on 07/13/17

Traveling kitchen helps county agent bring nutritional lessons to residents

By Sharon Dowdy

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agents, like Rockdale County’s MaryBeth Hornbeck, teach people to cook healthier meals. Thanks to a grant from the Hospital Authority of Rockdale County, Hornbeck now travels across the county with a portable kitchen.

“Normally, Family and Consumer Sciences agents set up a table and an electric skillet to show groups how to cook and serve nutritious meals,” she said. “This is so much better than that, as there’s a mirror above the table so the audience can see each step of what I do.”

The Rockdale County UGA Extension office doesn’t have a kitchen, but the mobile kitchen lab makes up for that. To serve as many people as possible, Hornbeck takes the mobile kitchen to places like the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library, a location that was suggested by a local school nutrition director.

“I set up before the library’s puppet show so I can reach a lot of parents, too,” she said. “We’ve served blueberries, green beans, tomatoes, corn, squash, watermelon and other Georgia-grown produce.”

She tries to cook produce mentioned in the nutrition newsletter she provides to adults at the conclusion of her lesson. Children who taste the produce receive a “Veggie Taster” certificate at the end of the program. She gives away a bag of produce to each family represented to encourage them to make the recipe at home.

“I try to make it fun for the kids. When we cooked green beans, they got to snap the beans,” she said. “They loved to hear them snap.”

Increasing a child’s exposure to a new food increases the likelihood the child will consume it and become healthier in the process, according to Hornbeck. 

“You have to eat a vegetable eight to 15 times before you know if you like it or not,” she said.

Hornbeck said parents should be vigilant and introduce new fruits and vegetables to children between the ages of 2 and 6.

“This is the time that kids start to exhibit choices for themselves,” she said. “If parents enjoy eating vegetables, then it will help normalize a vegetable for kids. The more times they see the vegetable at the table or on their plate — even if they don’t eat it — the better.”

In addition to the library, Hornbeck takes her traveling kitchen to the splash pad at the county’s Milstead Park and to Johnson Park’s walking trail. The traveling kitchen tends to be used more in the summer months, when families are spending time outdoors, and is a great way to build local collaborations and partnerships.

Hornbeck is also using the time she interacts with residents to collect data on their nutritional habits.

“We are trying to interview kids about their experiences with the foods we cook. We hand them a Fisher Price microphone to use when answering the questions and they love that,” she said. “We also have comment cards for the adults to fill out and a sign-up sheet where they can request information from UGA Extension. If you use the right tactics, you can get really good information and start to impact change.”

To help encourage children and adults to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, Hornbeck encourages making it fun by doing at-home taste tests.

“If you buy it, chances are, they would eat it,” she said of introducing new foods to children. “If they have something in their hand and feel involved, the chances are higher that they will try it.”

Hornbeck’s goal for her UGA Extension nutritional classes is simple. She wants families to know that eating well at home doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. An easy and quick idea is to cook typical breakfast foods for dinner, she said.

“Breakfast for dinner is one of the quickest and least expensive meals you can serve,” she said.  “Even boxed pancake mix can be healthy if you look for a brand with at least 3 grams of fiber.” 

For more information on healthy eating, visit .

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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