Loyal patrons filled the seats of the Cynthiana-Harrison County Public Library community room on Thursday, May 18, to learn about making healthy eating choices on a budget.

The library partnered with the Harrison County Extension Office to have Stacey Stephens, a program assistant at the extension office, teach multiple classes about healthy eating for everybody. Thursday’s class focused on budgeted healthy eating and making choices that won’t hurt your body, or your wallet.

Stephens offered tips to class participants aiming to lessen the cost of grocery spending. One of her most repeated tips suggested making a list before going to the grocery store.

“Planning ahead is key when you’re trying to save money at the grocery. And, let’s face it, nowadays at the grocery things are pretty expensive,” Stephens said. “Prices have gone up and we can all benefit from saving at the grocery or stretching our dollars.”

Patrons met Stephens with hoots and hollers, agreeing grocery trips can easily become an investment. Class participants shared some of their own tricks to lessen grocery costs, including coupon apps, not shopping hungry and leaving kids at home.

Through her classes, Stephens hopes to teach the community how to better navigate healthy eating, without feeling the need to give up foods that are enjoyed.

“When you say ‘You need to eat healthier,’ or ‘You need to eat a little more nutritious,’ we tend to think, ‘It’s not going to taste good.’ A big benefit of the program is learning that you can eat healthier,” Stephens said. “We also do not tell people they have to give stuff up — that’s not reasonable. But, we do talk about moderation and talk about how you can improve. If you drink 12 pops a week, try cutting back to 11. It’s still a win.”

Tracye Young, adult services coordinator at the library, encouraged everyone to try the cooking class at least once to learn something new. Along with the extension office partnership, the library spearheads its own healthy eating initiatives.

Before the healthy choices class started, Young sat in the community room handing out samples of white pepper and recipes copied from library cookbooks so patrons could try their hand in the kitchen.

She hopes to help people expand their horizons as they learn to cook, and expand their social circle as they meet other people who live close by.

“For most people who come, it’s a social thing too.” Young said. “A Lot of people this is their social time. For me it’s more about the social than it is about what we’re actually doing. Some people come to everything we do.”

Jen Robinson, an area extension agent for the nutrition education program, said Stephens is one of the best assistants in the program. She called Stephens passionate and caring about community involvement.

Robinson shared her gratitude for the space provided in the library to meet with the community. There is an extension office in all 120 counties in Kentucky, but Robinson said being able to meet the people where they are provides an advantage to fostering community outreach.

“Transportation is an issue too and people can’t always get to those extension offices,” she said. “So having (programs) at a library or at a community center where there might be public transportation that can drop people off is important, and it shows that we can be out in the community, we’re not just in the extension office.”

Shirley Hunt and her mom Carol Hunt regularly attend the classes offered by Stephens. Carol said she enjoys the friendly atmosphere and the chance to meet more people, and Shirley said learning how to budget and still eat healthy had greatly benefited her experience with cooking.

“It can be important to know how to budget and how much you can get from a portion, and the class makes it easier to make your food healthier,” Shirley said.

Stephens also warned the class not to eat or buy for convenience. She said choosing to prepare your own version of premade food has health and cost benefits, and can often be the difference between making or breaking a budget.

Joedene Thayer and her partner Michael Armstrong moved to Kentucky from Florida, and have found the extension office’s in the commonwealth to be much more inviting than their previous residence.

They often travel to neighboring counties to enjoy a wide array of extension office programs. Thayer said she has learned a lot about food safety during her classes with Stephens, but her favorite aspect of the extension office opportunities come from the social experience.

“We are retired, so it gives us an opportunity to be in the community,” she said. “The people are friendly, the information is good and the food is good. But, the most important thing is it’s a great opportunity to get out and do something with other people.”

Also praising the opportunity to build community, Armstrong said he appreciated the opportunity to fine tune his general knowledge while sharing an experience with his friends in the community.

As a retired nurse, Armstrong has a luscious knowledge of nutrition, but he still finds value in attending the cooking classes to “highlight” and “personalize” his knowledge in the kitchen.

Praising the basics, he encouraged other members of the community to participate in the “great work” the extension office provides throughout the state.

“Support the extension office. Come here for them,” he said. “This is not a rich community. There’s a lot of marginal income people who are probably struggling here and there. So come learn how to do this.”

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