By Joel Thomas, CBS 11 News

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Area food banks feeding low-income families on Thanksgiving has become as much an annual tradition as a roasted turkey. But the Tarrant Area Food Bank is cooking up more than just meals for families; it’s part of a national program offering residents cooking classes.

The food bank’s Cooking Matters class teaches which ingredients to use when cooking, recipes, techniques and money skills while putting residents into a real kitchen with a real chef.

“We teach people in these classes not only how to cook healthy and to cook safely but also how to budget and manage their accounting with buying groceries that are in season or even using ingredients people wouldn’t more commonly use,” said Annamarie Saavedra, the Tarrant Area Food Bank Cooking Matters Coordinator.

In one course, several women gathered around cutting boards and listened to a chef describe the properties of ginger, how to cut it and how to prepare a low-calorie, low price Chinese stir-fry. The chefs volunteer their time, and they teach more than just cutting-edge kitchen skills.

Students in this free class learn about healthy ingredients, new ways of combining food and ways of buying more with less money.

“I’m finding I get more for my money and the stuff I used to buy I don’t buy now because I get more carbohydrates and more sugar and more starches and more fats,” said Joycie Williams, a student in the class. “And I’m trying to cut down on all that.”

Nationally, the program has held 4,000 courses since 1993 and helped 45,000 families, according to the ConAgra Foods Foundation, the national sponsor of the program.

“People who you wouldn’t normally think would benefit from these classes are coming in and realizing, ‘Oh my gosh! I can save so much if i just start buying this way or buying what’s in season or canned and frozen options,” Saavedra said.

And many students said they find the class a recipe to cheaper, healthier living.

“That’s the reason I’m here,” Williams said. “To save money and get healthy.”

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