Slower Cooking, Faster Meals: NetSuite Removing Impediments to Good Nutrition

Slower Cooking, Faster Meals: NetSuite Removing Impediments to Good Nutrition


In the past year as a SuiteImpact Ambassador, I've had the pleasure of collaborating on quite a few projects for NetSuite's Waterloo office. It has been very rewarding to see a remarkably high participation from all employees in these altruistic projects, like painting fences for an equestrian therapy farm, teaching kids to use technology, and making blankets for traumatized babies.

I'm pleased to be working once again on a new SuiteImpact project. This one is especially ambitious, because it's not a pre-existing program to which we're contributing — this is a new project that we are planning from scratch.

I for one agree that tech companies should care about gentrification in Kitchener. The effects of gentrification are numerous, but most noticeable in the rising cost of dwelling in the city's core. Many families in our region, especially those living near the core, are at risk of being unable to afford to live here. The pressure of poverty or near-poverty applies pressure upon these families, but the pressure manifests as many different stresses.

One of those stresses which affects the quality of living is nutrition. Poor nutrition will compound compromised health, which affects everything else (including employment) and feeds back as increased financial pressure. I was inspired by a blog post by my aunt, Jennifer Hewitt, describing an interaction she experienced as a literacy teacher at Project READ, hosted at the Mill Courtland Community Center. Ms Hewitt wrote:

... She went on to tell me that, instead of teaching math and English, I should teach the students in my class how to cook. Because, she said, her mother hadn't taught her. And with the tiny amount of money she could allot to food each month, she couldn't afford to make mistakes. What if she bought ingredients and then, when they were mixed together, they tasted terrible? (It had happened). Or, worse, she burned the meal. Now, her daughter would go hungry at her hands.

"At least with food that's already made, I know she'll eat tonight."

Many others were listening in, nodding.

excerpt from "Stand Down Margaret Wente", by Jennifer Hewitt

The challenge of providing adequate nutrition — on a limited budget — presents challenges in four ways:

  1. Convenience

    Often, parents in a stressed family will have multiple jobs, long hours, commuting challenges, and/or unusual shift work. They are also more likely to have challenges in child care and complex daily routines. Compared to a wealthy family, a stressed family will have less time for nutrition, including shopping for groceries and preparation of the meals. Very often, a stressed family will make frequent use of delivered pizza, economy restaurant meals, and take-out fast food. The higher cost of this style of eating begins a cycle of dependency on processed food that has a negative impact both nutritionally and financially.

  2. Risk of Failure.

    When you're a family under stress, you can't risk "screwing up dinner". If you burn the chicken or undercook the rice, there is a substantially bigger risk of not eating at all, because you can't afford to waste a meal and try over. Hence, families at risk will choose more convenient, more expensive take-out and restaurant food, because there is less chance of wasted ingredients. When you order a sandwich from Subway, you may be spending more, but you are guaranteed to get something edible for the cost.

  3. Skills

    When you receive a bag of dried green lentils from the Food Bank, what do you do with that? What can you make with a can of hearts of palm? But moreso, if you have never been taught how to cook at all, it is difficult to break the barrier of intimidation and the cycle of processed meals.

  4. Equipment

    Good quality cooking tools are an expense that don't fit into a constrained budget. This challenge is the relatively easy to overcome since a warped frying pan is easy to obtain cheaply from a thrift shop; but if someone is beginning to learn cooking for the first time, outfitting a kitchen with all the tools necessary is an expensive prospect.

Slower Cooking for Faster Meals

Crock Pot
Photo: Crock Pot by Janine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

NetSuite Waterloo is planning a cooking class that hits all four of those challenges head on. The Slower Cooking for Faster Meals program will offer free cooking classes to eligible participants, based around using a slow cooker. This style of cooking addresses three challenges mentioned: it's convenient, low-risk, and easy. We are currently organizing a pilot event, which consists of the following:

  • An evening cooking course, offered for free.
  • Each participating family receives a slow cooker (crock pot).
  • Each participating family receives a "kit" of knives, cutting board, some spices, can opener, measuring cups and spoons, and other tools.
  • At the event, participating families will work hands-on to prepare one weeks' worth of actual meals, with all ingredients provided by NetSuite, packaged for freezing in large freezer bags. The goal will be for participants to leave with seven meals that can be pulled out of the freezer each morning, emptied into a slow cooker, turned on before leaving for work, so they can come home in the evening to a hot nutritious meal large enough to feed the entire family.
  • This is a family-inclusive event. We will provide care for younger children, and older children will be encouraged to participate in food preparation.
  • A meal will be provided so that it replaces the need to find a meal for that night.
  • The curriculum will include a printed book of recipes featured in the class, and others that are nutritious, easy, using affordable ingredients, and items in the kit.

The pilot event will be limited in size, but we intend for it to become a regular event. After the pilot event is done, we'll assess anything that needs to be improved, and slowly scale it up to the point where we can offer it to larger groups.

We are thankful to Joe Mancini, co-founder of The Working Centre, whose insight was valuable during initial discussions, and who has generously arranged for us to use St John's Kitchen as our venue.

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