Students Learn About Socioeconomic Status and Food Choices

By Madison Becknell and Ryan Clark
CHS Contributors

On Monday, the College of Health Sciences CLM 323 class, Social Determinants of Health, attended their own cooking class at The Food Connection on campus.

The head chef at The Food Connection, Tanya Whitehouse, led the class through a cooking activity designed to highlight the way differences in socioeconomic status result in different food choices and therefore health outcomes. The students prepared meals in small groups, then ate and discussed their work. 

Half the class attended on March 21 while the other half will attend March 28.

“They are each preparing meals from different price points, and it will give them an idea of what you can do for healthy cooking on a budget,” said Christy Brady, PhD, assistant professor in Clinical Leadership and Management. “So, what is the quality of food going to look like, what is it going to taste like, what is the food that is available to you based off of the price points? Also, what are the skills required to cook those things? Some people have more experience based off of their upbringing. They each have receipts from their meals to see how far their money went and if they had any leftovers and how it works.”

Chef Whitehouse instructed the students to pretend they are a family of four and cook dinner for them.

On each table there was a grocery bag of food, cooking utensils, pots and pans, and table top burners. She told them that they had to use every ingredient in the meal in some way. Then she taught them how to use all of the cooking utensils and how to properly dice the vegetables.

At the end of the class, she had the students break down the receipt they were given of all of the ingredients and figure out how much it was per person, how nutritious, how convenient it was to make, and if it tasted good.

As she was going around, one of the groups had a budget of four dollars a person, and she shared with the group that SNAP recipients have a food budget of $4 per person per day. Whitehouse also brought up how the access to clean water, functional stoves and cooking utensils are all a factor in cooking because not everyone has these things.

“I love doing this for this class,” she said. “I think it is a great activity.” 

The students felt the same way.

“I love the class because I really enjoy cooking,” said Morgan Tennebar, a junior in the CLM program. “In class we are learning about social determinants of health and understand what’s going on in the environment.”

“I like that we are learning about different issues and learning about real-world things,” said Christian Hendricks, also a junior in the program. “Currently we are learning about the advantage of having more resources in terms of overall health. And even though everyone might be cooking dinner, some people may have the means to cook a more healthy dinner than others based off of their social class.”