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Healthy Eating 101 at Harmony: Class explores methods to help families, children eat healthier

Dr. David Erickson opens a Monday evening class on Healthy Cooking for a Healthy Community at Harmony Coop Foods, focusing on healthy eating for children. Attendees sampled and received recipe ideas for families with active lifestyles. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Healthy eating isn’t just another trend for Johnna Nynas, it’s a way of life.

Organizing a series of classes and events that encompass the healthy cooking and living theme, Nynas, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Minnesota, hosted her second class at the Harmony Foods Co-op community kitchen Monday night to showcase the ease and importance of cooking healthy meals for children.

“Bemidji has an obesity problem, with about one-third of the population here being obese,” she said. “This reflects a national trend, but still, it needs to be addressed.”

Partnering with Harmony Foods and Sanford Health, Nynas demonstrated to the small crowd the process of making a full-course, child-conscious meal, which was accompanied by brief lectures from guest speakers Dr. David Erickson, Sanford Pediatrics, and Dr. Suzy Human, Sanford Family Medicine.

 “I really wanted to do something for the community,” Nynas said. “I love food, and I wanted to show people that you can prepare it healthy and easily.”

Involved in the Rural Physician Associate Program at the U of M, Nynas was assigned to the Bemidji area to live and train. A nine-month program, Nynas, like all other RPAP students, had the freedom to choose what her project would focus on, so she chose to organize a program called “Healthy Cooking for Healthy Communities.”

 “She’s been extraordinary with her product,” said Human, adding other RPAP projects usually do not have such close interaction with the community. “I really hope it’s an ongoing thing, and I hope that it doesn’t get left curbside.”

Having attended one of Nynas’ classes for the first time Monday night, Annette Hansen said she wanted to find out what she could learn from the presentation. “I wanted to see what I might learn about sodium, as I have to avoid it if I can,” Hansen said.

A mother of four and grandmother to seven, Hansen said preparing home-cooked meals was a daily habit of hers, even growing a garden in order to consume healthier produce and to relieve the grocery bill.

But that was 12 years ago, and since, she’s joined the “fast-paced, on-the-go” work world, holding a career in nursing.

“There wasn’t as much time to prepare the food the way I used to,” she said.

No longer immersing so much of her time in a career, Hansen is much more health conscious these days, returning to the habit of preparing home-cooked meals on a regular basis.

“It’s been difficult,” Hansen said. “I’ve had to switch over from a lot of different things.”

But the transition has not been just to benefit her own health, Hansen said.

Much of the reasoning behind eating healthier comes from inspiration and concern for her 1½-year-old grandson, who is believed to suffer from celiac disease and has been battling health issues.

Teaching people about the benefits to eating healthy has exceeded her expectations, Nynas said. “I’m really proud of it (Healthy Cooking for Healthy Communities),” she added. “When you care about something so much, it becomes a labor of love, and I’m really loving this.”

Nynas said the Healthy Cooking for Healthy Communities classes will return in the fall.

Teaching healthy eating to children does not mean having to give up taste and flavors, Nynas said.

“With kids, it’s about role-modeling,” Nynas said. “You have to practice what you teach.”