Gourmet healthy

Bariatric cooking class gives humorous, healthy spin on cooking, meal planning

Chef Amelia Walker, left, works with a student named Norma in one of her summer cooking classes.

Chef Amelia Walker, left, works with a student named Norma in one of her summer cooking classes.

Cooking class can be humorous, historical and healthy. At least that’s how chef Amelia Walker is approaching the Cooking for Life class.

The weight loss surgery cooking class on Feb. 25 will be held at the Blount Memorial Wellness Center in Springbrook Corporate Center.

Walker has taught cooking since 1996. She was most recently at Williams-Sonoma in West Town Mall where she taught for several years. She has taught various cooking classes at the BMH Wellness Center, such as the heart healthy cooking class.

“Amelia has had such a great response,” BMH Wellness Center Weight Management Center director Angie Stewart said.

Walker said she tries to make the classes enjoyable for the students. “I take a bit of science, history, nutrition and humor and make cooking real,” she said.

Walker trained in North Carolina and in Thailand.

“My husband Forbes is from Scotland and is a professor at University of Tennessee. He had the opportunity to go to Thailand,” she said. “I studied nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. My family is in the restaurant business. My mom, 76 years old, is my mentor, and she runs two businesses. I’ve run a catering business my whole life.”

Walker enjoys teaching and is anticipating the Cooking for Life class will be fun. The chef also plans to show students how to shop and meal plan, “so they can have better choices,” she said.

Walker said her attitude about cooking is similar to that of the food critic in last summer’s hit animated movie “Ratatouille.”

“I don’t like food,” she said. “I love food!”

In the movie, a food critic is asked why he is so skinny. The animated character had a similar response to Walker’s. “I don’t like food, I love food, and if I don’t love it, I don’t eat it,” the critic said.

“That’s my philosophy,” Walker said.

Walker said she can empathize with the weight loss surgery patients. “I’ve struggled with weight issues all my life. I understand the struggle, the cravings and I know food is a compulsion for many people,” she said. “I understand the obsession, the comfort food can bring to someone.”

Walker said she put on weight after having children because of her eating habits. “I’ve lost 45 pounds by changing portions, making better decisions and exercising,” she said.

“I’ve also had colon surgery and understand the importance of foods to avoid. From personal experience I can empathize.”

Stewart said Walker helps change students’ attitudes about their food by making the food healthier. “Amelia is so good at getting patients to love their food. Amelia can take old recipes and make them healthy and easy to prepare,” Stewart said. “She also teaches students about eating the just the right amounts.”

“I teach portion control, and I’ll cut a lot of things out so it’s easier,” Walker said.

Walker also advocates creating simple meals to help people eat better while eating together as a family. “I feel very strongly families should eat together more,” Walker said.

Stewart echoed Walker’s thoughts. “There are studies that show when a family eats together, they are less likely to be overweight,” Stewart said.

Walker said often food can be prepared and healthy leftovers can be used the rest of the week. “If they grill out on Saturday, they can make things throughout the week,” she said.

Walker said one of the best ways to have a healthy meal is to have all colors on the plate. “I’m a big believer in color on the plate. I love having a rainbow on the plate,” she said. “When a plate is colorful, it’s more exciting and hits all the senses.”

Walker’s students are encouraged also to eat foods with poly- and mono-saturated fats found in foods like nuts and avocadoes. “We teach patients to get foods high in vitamins and minerals, proteins, vegetables, and whole grains,” Stewart said.

Walker studies the textbooks the patients read before their weight loss surgery. “I understand what they can and shouldn’t have,” she said. “Then I look at my favorite cookbooks and recipes.”

Stewart said students for the class do not necessarily have to be BMH Weight Management patients but they do need to have had the surgery for the course to make sense. “We’ve had other healthy cooking classes for the general public, but this one is specifically designed for weight loss surgery patients or their families,” she said of the upcoming Feb. 25 class.

Walker also teaches specialty classes such as gluten-free cooking or cooking for diabetics. Another class, the cooking for heart class, is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 11 at the BMH Wellness Center.

The first Cooking for Life class for bariatric patients is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 25 at the BMH Wellness Center. For information call Stewart at 865-980-7119.

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