Holistic nutritionist Catherine DeVos is bringing her cooking knowledge to a unique class.
In partnership with Community Living Central York in Newmarket, DeVos is spending her Thursdays helping to teach healthy recipes to adults with intellectual disabilities
Devos said she has been passionate about nutrition from a young age and is excited to bring the program to life.
“I am all about being a crusader for better eating. If I can win someone over who can change their diet, then that really gets me excited,” she said. “We can actually see the change in people as they improve their diet.”
The program, which began last summer, brings in students for eight weeks of cooking classes, learning different healthy recipes using Community Living’s new kitchen at the Newmarket facility. They cook the meals themselves on-site under DeVos’ supervision.
Community Living manager Amanda Wikke said it is part of a series of initiatives the United Way Greater Toronto has funded. They are running programs like this to get people out to socialize.
“Through the pandemic, a lot of the people we support were very lonely. A lot of their supports were moved from in-person to virtual,” she said. “We’re trying to get people out of their doors and back doing face-to-face activities.
“People really enjoyed the recipes,” Wikke added. "(DeVos) has really tried to adapt her programming to the people who have a developmental disability, but also respecting the fact we do serve adults.”
DeVos has made a career of bringing better nutrition to others. She described getting interested in the field in hopes of helping her brother diagnosed with schizophrenia, and eventually, her own children diagnosed with ADHD.
After her children got older, she went back to school in her 50s to learn applied nutrition. That has led her to become a nutritional cook and personal chef, through which she has travelled around the region teaching classes.
She said she prioritizes more plant-based eating, with green smoothies being a specialty.
“I get excited by teaching people how to eat healthy,” she said.
The Community Living program has fared well, according to Wikke. It is running in eight-week intakes, where participants will learn to cook recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. After a successful run in the summer, a new intake started this week, with a graduate class also starting up for the summer students who wanted to keep learning.
Not everyone is at the same pace with it, DeVos said, but some students have really taken to it.
“Not everybody is going to receive it the same way,” she said, but added that some of the students “are so excited about it they want to change their diet.”
The program has succeeded in getting folks out again,” Wikke said.
"A lot of people became very reclusive. We’re having a hard time getting them back out to the community. A lot of people gained weight, became depressed,” she said. “People just enjoyed being able to see each other again. There was a social aspect."
With funding secured, Wikke said they expect the program will continue on into the future.
“I think the response will be good again,” DeVos said of the program going forward. “People love to eat.”