Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet can be a challenge for all of us, but for cancer survivors or those battling cancer, the importance of keeping your body healthy and happy can seem like a full-time job. Learning the right ingredients and how to use them without breaking the bank can be a daunting task, which is why Women Supporting Women offers their free, bi-annual nutrition and cooking classes for cancer survivors and cancer caretakers. Funded by the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore and led by Chris Himmel and Henriette den Ouden of Habanera Farm, ‘Cooking for the New Me’ provides information on how to use healthy fats and vegetables, along with tips on how to prepare both familiar ingredients and ingredients that are new to you.

Chris and Henriette are owners of Habanera Farm, an herb farm tea producer and health education retreat. Together, they lead the bi-annual class for Women Supporting Women in an effort to better educate attendees on health, nutrition, cooking, and developing healthy eating habits. The four-week series focuses on a different topic each week – topics that are essential to those battling cancers as well as to survivors of breast cancer and many other types of cancer. The spring series will focus on Detoxification, Healthy Weight, Energy Building, and Immune Support. “They are topics that are easy to understand and that are directly related to food,” explained Henriette. “They are also topics people hear about and read all kinds of information about; but most people lack the skills to put all of that information together and translate it into practical steps to improve health. That is what we do; we teach and experience healthy ideas.”

For the Detoxification class, the focus is on choosing products that assist in cleaning your system and keeping it clean. “This is important for health and important for getting rid of leftover pharmaceuticals,” explained Henriette. Healthy Weight focuses on both losing and gaining weight, as weight loss is common during treatment. Henriette also noted that many studies have shown that breast cancer has a higher re-occurrence in overweight individuals. “Choosing the right kinds of protein and fats help both groups establish a healthy weight,” she said. Both the Energy Support and Immune Support classes focus on foods that serve as excellent alternatives to processed foods. “Nutrition is the building of your body,” explained Henriette. ”The right nutrition for cancer survivors is easy to digest, contains healthy ingredients, is not processed, and is as natural as it can be.”

Each class focuses not only on providing information, but also on allowing those in attendance to try their hands at cooking. “We ask people to come up and watch us, smell the food, and see how it really looks when something gets ready” said Henriette, who with Chris will prepare an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. “All the food is un-processed and we explain why and where to get it and how much it costs. We also spend time on the amounts you need, since some of the ingredients are more expensive and preparing the right amount is a money saver.” Once the meal has been prepared, everyone digs in while discussing flavors and ideas. “It is an interactive class. There is always a lot of talking going on and people exchange ideas,” she said. While Henriette focuses on the background of food and its importance, Chris tries to bring out the emotional side of cooking. “The class really is more on changing habits than on learning what is healthy,” said Henriette. “We have a lot of fun. The goal is to offer a practical experience in cooking and tasting healthy foods and finding enjoyment in cooking and tasting healthy food. You will only cook healthy if you love eating it. Our food in the classes is so good that people love it…and then they want to do it themselves.”

This season’s class will take place in two sessions, the first at Worcester Youth & Family Counseling Services in Berlin from 5:30pm until 7:30pm on April 21, April 28, May 12 and May 19. The second is a Saturday class, from 11am until 1pm at Shore Appliance Connection in Salisbury on April 23, April 30, May 14 and May 21. To register, call Women Supporting Women at 410-548-7880.

“The right nutrition gives you the energy you need, gives you the right building blocks to become and stay healthy,” concluded Henriette.