Free class teaches Crystal Lake Food Bank clients healthy recipes, mindful eating

Diabetes prevention program moving to McHenry in September

A new class open to members of the Northern Illinois Food Bank teaches students how to cook recipes using fruits and vegetables of the season, gives them access to healthy foods they can share with their families and encourages stress management and exercise.

Taught earlier this year at the Crystal Lake Food Pantry, the class will begin again in September at Casa De Vida in McHenry.

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The Crystal Lake Food Pantry, Northern Illinois Food Bank and the McHenry County Health Department are collaborating to offer the class as a form of diabetes prevention, faced with rising numbers of those diagnosed with the disease.

The 10-week course focuses on a different subject each week, including mindful eating and incorporating healthy movement.

“When we don’t take time to move, manage our stress or focus on meal preparation or having more enjoyable moments around food, that’s where it starts,” Northern Illinois Food Bank consulting dietitian Kelly Brasseur said. “In prevention, you have to address all of those aspects; it’s all contributing.”

The program grew out of a 2014 Feeding America Hunger Study. According to the study, 26 percent of households have at least one member with diabetes. At 27 percent, McHenry County surpasses the national average.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common, and, with proper treatment and lifestyle choices, many are able to prevent or delay complications.

A healthy lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with eating well and incorporating movement into your daily routine.

For some, the foods needed are not always readily available, and the preparation of those foods is foreign. But why wait for an official diagnosis before making life changes for the better?

Along with learning how to cook healthy recipes, students are given access to 400 pounds of food a class they can take home to practice and develop the skills they learned.

“I started eating mushrooms,” class attendee Sandra Romo said.

“I never wanted to try them, but now I’m eating mushrooms with garlic and a green pepper every other day. I try to prepare them in different ways. Sometimes I will put vegetables in my salad or steam them. And I make a green shake every morning. I’ve learned a lot.”

Romo said the initial class of 13 students became a tight-knit group.

“Everyone was very professional, and it made a big change in my life,” Romo said.

“It was very fun, and I miss the people in my class.”

Brasseur developed the diabetes prevention class curriculum when the need arose while she was working with Northern Illinois University on another project.

“We worked together on what it would look like if we created a program,” Brasseur said.

“We feel there’s a few things that make our program different. We wanted to go to food pantries and to be sensitive to topics our clients wanted to learn about and address, measuring pre- and post-outcomes to determine self-efficacy around fruit and veggie intake, confidence in eating healthy and increase in exercise through enjoyable movement.”

Crystal Lake resident Carol Waggoner, a Public Health Nurse/Health Educator for the McHenry County Department of Health, instructed the initial class at the Crystal Lake Food Pantry.

She said she teaches students how to listen to their internal cues, to use the hunger scales so as not to get too full or to be too hungry. She encourages them to ask themselves, “Am I hungry?”

“There’s a need for this class in our county,” she said. “We don’t have anything that addresses diabetes specifically.”

Waggoner will instruct the program’s second class from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday nights starting Sept. 12 at Casa De Vida, 4513 Front Royal Drive, McHenry.

“We teach sustainable behavior,” Waggoner said. “By taking home the fresh produce, they got in the habit of preparing the produce and trying new produce. We work on problem solving for things that might get in their way from being healthy, finding ways to move and making that a normal part of their life.”

Health educators interested in participating in or volunteering to instruct classes should contact Brasseur at There will be an Aug. 29 training session at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva.

Food bank clients interested in signing up for the 10-week class at Casa De Vida should contact Waggoner at

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