FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Jan. 24, 2020) -- A few items from the pantry and a little food knowledge were all it took for Hannah Alday to quickly whip up a delicious three-can, no-meat chili with caramelized onions.

The cooking demonstration was part of the first "Smart Food: Cooking and Nutrition" class Jan. 22 with roughly a dozen Fort Drum community members in attendance.

Alday and Joe Brennan, the two Cornell Cooperative Extension educators leading the class, said that the course is designed to be fun, informative and interactive. Along with hands-on meal preparation and discussions about nutrition and health, Brennan said that he will incorporate some physical activity into the class.

"We're going to cover a lot of information, a lot of skills, but one thing for sure is that you're going to have fun," he said. "I'm going to have some creative ways for us to get up and move around."

Brennan said that the course includes topics such as reading food labels, recommended portion sizes and different ways the food industry convinces the public to make unhealthy choices.

"It's a lot to take in, but at the end of the class I hope that everyone finds it useful and that they can take something back into their homes to make themselves and everyone around them a little healthier," he said.

During the cooking demo, Alday explained how to reduce the sodium content in the recipe by rinsing the canned beans in a colander or using dry beans - which is less expensive but will add more time to food preparation. She also suggested ways to add more protein and nutrients to the recipe for a more well-balanced meal.

"If you are looking to add more flavor, you might want to add a spice like garlic or chili powder instead of adding salt," Alday said. "If you like a more chunky style chili, you could add potato. But if I was at home I might use a potato masher, because I like mine a little creamier. It's really customizable."

Alday said that she loves to cook and she wants to share that each week with the attendees.

"I want to show that anyone can cook healthy meals, and that it's OK to play around with the recipes and just follow your taste buds once you know the basics," she said.

Brennan also covered some of the topics for upcoming classes, and he said that his favorite is called "Make a Change."

"This is where we talk about ways to reduce fat, sugar and sodium," he said. "I find that a lot of people I've worked with relate the most to this, because a lot of people tend to choose food that is convenient - fast foods with high amounts of sugar, sodium and saturated fat. I won't tell anyone to cut it out of their life entirely - unless that's a choice they make on their own - but I want to show ways you can reduce those things and still enjoy them."

Fort Drum Army Community Service's Relocation Readiness Program teamed up with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County last summer to pilot the eight-week class. Scarlett Sharkey, Readiness Relocation Program manager, said that it was a success and she wanted another chance for more Fort Drum spouses to get involved.

"When you look at the ACS logo, you will see that our mission is 'Providing Real Life Solutions for Successful Army Living,'" she said. "This class is just one of the ways we can fulfill that mission. This gives our Army spouses some quality time to learn, grow and make connections, and let them be the priority."

Sharkey said that the class is conducted at the Teen Center because of the facility's spacious kitchen and countertop that makes it the ideal learning laboratory.

"We are so grateful that we are able to have this class here, and it's also perfect for anyone who might bring their children to one of the classes," she said.

Ashley Brannon and her family moved to Fort Drum less than two weeks ago, and they have been busy unpacking household goods. When she received a welcome email from Sharkey that included the Smart Food flyer, Brannon decided to register for the class.

"I'm not working now, so I was looking for ways I can get involved," Brannon said. "We have a picky eater at home and a teenager, so it's really hard to find things that everyone in the house likes, and I'm always looking for new recipes to try."

Alday said that she enjoys working with Army spouses and that she hopes they will see cooking as something to enjoy and less of a chore.

"It can be pretty stressful at times, especially for those who are transitioning here for the first time, or when there are deployments," she said. "So we try to make this fun for them, and talk about getting their children involved in the cooking so that eating isn't a hassle."

To learn more about current and upcoming Relocation Readiness Program events, call (315) 772-6902 or visit https://www.facebook.com/Fort-Drum-Relocation-Readiness-Program-171335822906429/.