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Hungry for education? Calgary university offers free course teaching cooking skills, grocery budgeting

Living off instant ramen, last night’s pizza and gallons of iced coffee hopefully won’t have to be the norm for some Calgary students anymore. Mount Royal University (MRU) has launched NourishU, a free course that teaches students how to budget their grocery bill and cook well-rounded meals.

The NourishU program, developed in partnership with MRU’s Wellness Services department and with funding from Canadian Natural, has students attending a three-hour class to cook meals with a professional chef and learn about scouting grocery store savings as a food security initiative. 

And many students are hungry for the program’s teachings.

Jessica Quiring, an MRU student enrolled in the NourishU course, said she believes the program provides tangible steps for folks to focus on their food, both on and off campus.

“I think it’s breaking down the stereotype that healthy meals always have to be expensive,” said Quiring.

a young woman wearing a white sweater.
‘I think it’s a great initiative, and it’s really broken down into tangible steps for us,’ said Mount Royal University student, Jessica Quiring, about the school’s new NourishU program. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

“I think the whole process of budgeting, preparing a shopping list, deciding what to make for the week ahead, trying to schedule that with meal prep in between classes, it’s something that we’re never really taught.”

Food for thought

Today’s students have a lot on their plates — the average MRU student’s tuition cost is $8,600 for a typical eight-month school year with five courses per semester, and the university’s website notes learners should factor in another $1,500 on average for textbooks and supplies.

With higher education’s price tag, plus trying to balance part-time jobs and social lives, it’s no wonder fast and cheap meals are a go-to. 

To address the increasing cost of living, students who take the NourishU program will also receive a recipe book and $100 grocery gift card at the end.

‘Huge appetite’ for nutrition initiatives 

Jody Arndt, MRU’s Wellness Services director, said students were registering for the program before the university even launched its sign-up campaign.

a book, a vegetable peeler and a gift card placed on a table.
Students receive a recipe book and $100 grocery store gift card at the end of the NourishU program. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

“We’re actually full up until the end of April, so those are all the [sessions] that we’ve released so far,” Arndt told CBC News.

“We have some spots left over in case there’s somebody who’s really, really in need.”

Running once a month, each NourishU session has spots for up to 40 students, and the first course’s launch on Friday was fully booked.

“There’s been a huge appetite for this work,” said Arndt.

NourishU’s course handbook notes that 42 per cent of students have experienced food insecurity within the last month, and nearly 45 per cent of those surveyed said they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals, according to the 2022 National College Health Assessment Survey.

a group of people stand around a table.
Offered once a month, Mount Royal University students can attend a three-hour NourishU course. Each session is fully booked until the end of the school year. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

MRU has other food-focused initiatives, such as free breakfasts on weekday mornings and a food and hygiene product cupboard — both are measures put on by the Students’ Union that typically see a pretty high demand, according to Arndt.

But long-term, Arndt believes NourishU will address student nutrition beyond just their next meal. 

“The idea here is that we’re not just feeding students now by giving them food. We’re also teaching them to grocery shop on a budget, meal plan and then also cook that food.”

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