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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Volunteer Spotlight: Viki Shayna

Rebecca Blauw

Cropped Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I live in Ann Arbor with my husband and 4 sons. All of my sons attend local colleges so we all live together, making for a busy and diverse home. All of my sons have jobs too, and each one of us is pursuing a different area so it is an interesting and lively place to be. Luckily for all of us, one my sons is in culinary school, studying to be a chef. We even team-taught a Cooking Matters course last summer, in between his semesters. We are an active bunch, and enjoy being outside and traveling to National Parks and wilderness areas.


What made you decide to pursue a career in dietetics?

I earned a B.S. in Nutrition and then earned an M.S. in Health Education, a joint degree from the schools of Public Health and Education, from the University of Michigan. Currently I am working on my PhD in Diabetes Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.

I was a sickly child and as a result, I have been interested in healthy living for most of my life. I was able to improve my health through better eating and I believed that others could too. Too often medicine offers pills for symptoms instead of treating the underlying issue. Food is powerful and can improve the quality of life for most of us. I wanted to be part of that.


Could you please explain the work you have been doing for your dissertation? 

I am not sure that I can convey with words how powerful participating in the first Cooking Matters course was for me. I saw that it really had the ability to change people’s lives, and that the combination of nutrition and food preparation was truly the key. After so many years of only discussing the nutrition component, I was hit over the head with a better way to help others put the ideas into practice. When I first volunteered, I was in the midst of my doctoral classes and realized that this program was what I wanted to focus on for my dissertation.

My dissertation focuses on the question, “How has participating in Cooking Matters changed your experience with food?” I know that CM asks everyone who participates to fill out a survey, but I also noticed that there isn’t a focus on those with diabetes. Furthermore, many of our participants have a hard time reading and writing, so a written format would not be the best means to get an answer to that research question. My research is limited to women with diabetes who have participated in CM classes. I offer them a type of follow-up to CM, a 7-week program where we discuss life with diabetes and how CM has changed their lives. Each week it lasts 1.5 to 2 hours. It is an opportunity to reflect on how they have implemented what they learned in the classes, talk about their lives and help each other. I offer these women an opportunity to share these changes with others by giving them cameras and asking them to visually represent these changes. I develop the images and then we add narrative to the photos. The results are powerful and insightful, and our exhibits have inspired others to sign up for Cooking Matters classes.   Everyone wins!


What tips and tricks to you have for putting healthy meals on the table with such a busy schedule?

As I mentioned earlier, my sons are all still at home while they attend college, so I am feeding hungry young men every day! I have discovered that if I take a few hours every weekend to prepare several dishes for my family, then we eat better throughout the week. I don’t have the time or energy on weeknights to prepare the same type of meals, so this works out very well for us. This also helps planning my menus and grocery shopping because I can do it once a week. Also it works out well because we are not all home at the same time for dinner. People can eat when they need to and everyone gets both choices and healthy foods.

One suggestion that I would make for others is to use common ingredients. I get very annoyed by recipes in magazines where expensive and unusual specialty foods or spices are included. Sometimes that can make for an exciting change, but often more common ingredients will work just as well in the recipe. I look for recipes that do interesting things with common foods. They are more likely to be eaten and I won’t have to go searching for strange ingredients.

The other suggestion that I would make even for those who do not have to feed so many people as I do is to make a full recipe and freeze portion-sized quantities for later. The key is really in the portion-sized quantities. I find that if food is packaged so that little work is required later to make a meal, it is more likely to be eaten. This saves time and money and you will end up eating a better quality of food. Sometimes I make double recipes and freeze one, while serving the other one.


Is there a recipe you would like to share with us?

A good sauce is often the difference between a so-so recipe and a favorite. I like this recipe for barbeque sauce because it isn’t as sweet as the store-bought variety, has no extra additives, and is easy to make:


Makes about ½ cup


¼ cup ketchup

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp soy sauce or low-salt soy sauce

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp onion powder, minced onions or fresh onion, finely chopped

2 tsp ground cumin


Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook about 3 minutes. Add ketchup, brown sugar, soy sauce and cumin and simmer for about 5 minutes. Cool before serving.  Use immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.


Viki presenting a very excited Cooking Matters graduate with her

Cooking Matters grocery bag and cutting board.