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While most officers in the UW-Madison Police Department forgo the stereotypical coffee-and-donuts breakfast, it’s true that many still struggle with healthy eating.

And no wonder. After a ten-hour shift, it’s hard to muster the energy to go home and cook a meal from scratch. Healthy lunches are also a problem, since many officers are out and about at lunchtime, without access to a refrigerator or microwave.

What’s a hungry cop to do?

This fall 18 members of the UWPD sought the answer by signing up for a hands-on cooking course led by CALS food science instructor Monica Theis. The 10–week course, which is being run as a pilot project, fits in nicely with the UWPD’s larger wellness program. Each class begins with brief instruction on foods, food preparation and nutrition. Then participants hit Babcock Hall’s cooking lab to prepare a potluck’s worth of healthier-for-you dishes that everybody samples at the end of class.

Officers David Kromm and Ruth Ewing with the “mac n’ cheese” they cooked together.

“I signed up so I could get different, healthier recipes to make for my family, and quicker options for making things at night after work,” says Ruth Ewing, UWPD’s day shift lieutenant, who made “macaroni and cheese” sans cheese: it featured boiled, pureed squash instead.

Participants show up on Wednesday evenings with a can-do and will-try attitude. Each session highlights a particular type of meal or food group. They’ve covered vegetables, animal-based proteins, plant-based proteins, pasta and sauces, and chilis, soups and stews.

With guidance from dietetics student Maria Gruetzmacher, UWPD lieutenant Mark Silbernagel rolls out pizza dough he made from scratch.

The course was the idea of special events lieutenant Mark Silbernagel, the team leader for the UWPD’s healthy culture and climate effort. He’d heard about Theis’ cooking classes for students and reached out to her. “We knew we had tons of passionate experts here on campus [who could help],” he says.

Theis loved the idea, not just as a way to serve the campus community, but also as a great learning opportunity for students. Students in a dietetics lab class help set up the cooking stations each week, and students from the food science and nutritional sciences departments participate in the cooking sessions and help develop educational materials requested by the officers.

Dietetics senior Kylee Secrist said she learned a lot by helping to create a one-page flowchart that recommends safe, healthy lunch options, taking into account whether officers will be in the office or on the go at lunchtime.

“It was interesting to have insight into what people in the community need and want to know about consuming healthy food in the context of their lifestyle,” Secrist says.

Theis says it’s rewarding to see the participants incorporate some of the new recipes and nutritional advice into their routines. “They come back each week and talk about what they tried at home,” she says. “To me that’s one of the best success stories.”

At a recent cooking session, Karen Soley sauted leeks to add to mashed potatoes.

UWPD Support Services Captain Karen Soley had a great example: She’s introduced her husband to tempeh and Brussels sprouts since joining the class.

“He said, ‘Unless you bury these things in nacho cheese sauce, I do not like Brussels sprouts.’ I said, ‘Just trust me.’ So I followed the recipe that we made in class, and he took the first bite and he stopped and looked at me and he said, ‘Huh, these are kind of good,’” says Soley. “And then he had seconds.”