Vikings chef teaches families to eat healthy

Portrait of Chef Giji

Last night the Twin Cities Salvation Army kicked off a new program that teaches low-income families how to shop for and cook healthy meals. The program, called “Huddle Around Health,” is led by Geji McKinney-Banks, director of food service operations for the Minnesota Vikings.

Huddle Around Health graphicThe first session took place at the West 7th Salvation Army in St. Paul, where 10 families enjoyed a hot dinner and an interactive presentation about basic nutrition. Future sessions will cover all kinds of practical topics, such as grocery shopping on a budget.

“You walk into a grocery store with your last $20 bucks – what do you buy to cook an entire meal?” McKinney-Banks said.

Chef Giji prepares foodMcKinney-Banks is excited about Huddle Around Health because she has always wanted to teach low-income families about nutrition.

“This has been a dream of mine – I honestly prayed for this,” she said. “Nutrition is so important. So many people aren’t eating the right things, and they don’t know any better.”

St. Paul residents Kim and Jose came to the event with their two daughters. They were excited to learn more about eating healthy.

“We like steak, cheeseburgers, spaghetti, and pizza – probably not the best things to eat all the time,” said Kim, who plans to attend Huddle Around Health’s upcoming meetings on May 14, May 18, and June 1. “I want to cook healthier meals.”

A family attends Huddle Around HealthKim and Jose (pictured) were among eight families in attendance who are enrolled in a nationwide Salvation Army mentoring program called Pathway of Hope. The program helps Minnesota families break free from poverty by giving them tools to overcome barriers such as unemployment, unstable housing and lack of education. (Read success story.)

Future Huddle Around Health meetings will include hands-on cooking sessions, along with lectures about topics such as:

  • Cooking techniques
  • Learning to love healthy food
  • The pitfalls of sugar, fast food, and unhealthy snacks

Chef Giji's nametagMcKinney-Banks has been cooking for the Vikings for about 25 years, and for many years she moonlighted as Adrian Peterson’s personal chef. She has lots of fun stories to tell about how far food and nutrition have come in professional sports.

“Back when I first started, there was a hot dog cart that would come around at Winter Park, or the guys would eat at McDonald’s,” chuckled McKinney-Banks, adding that a cafeteria was later added under the direction of former head coach Dennis Green.

Today, the Vikings take food and nutrition much more seriously: The team’s new practice facility, TCO Performance Center, includes a 6,900-square-foot kitchen and dining space nicknamed “The Huddle.”

The Salvation Army Northern Division pledges to do the most good with your gifts of time and money, with 81 cents of every dollar going directly to services. Join us by volunteering or making a donation to support your local community. Stay current on how The Salvation Army is changing lives in Minnesota and North Dakota by signing up for our e-Newsletters.

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