GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - For older couples, it's not an uncommon thing that the wives did all the cooking throughout their marriage.
But for women now with dementia or other debilitating diseases, their husbands are finding themselves as the caregivers, and many have no cooking skills.
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan surveyed male caregivers in their program last year and found many didn't know the basics of measuring sugar or following a recipe.
So Nutrition Program Coordinator Staci Shell developed "Conquring the Kitchen," believed to be one, if not the only cooking class in the state just for older men.
"You place peppers around the edges, and then the lemon," said Wes, reading off a recipe Shell created for the second week of her four-week program. It's a casserole with just five ingredients.
But for caregivers John Bantjes, Gerald Orange, and Les DeBoer -- buying fresh chicken, chopping peppers, and cooking to taste -- is an entirely new concept.
"My wife is kinda of a kitchen princess. I was always told to stay out of the kitchen," said Bantjes of Byron Center.
But that all changed when their wives could no longer work in the kitchen.
"She had left something in the microwave and due to the Parkinson's tremor, instead of two minutes, she had 22 minutes on it," said Gerald Orange. "She became disgusted so she said, 'I'll just watch it.' In the meantime, she went and walked into the garage, but on the way back, she tripped and fell on the threshold and could not get up."
Orange says the microwave burned up and that's when he took over.
For Bantjes, dementia continues to rob his wife of all cooking capabilities.
"Now she's to the point where she can no longer communicate."
But he's determined to answer back with love, and nutritious food in hand. The wedding bands are a symbol of all three's mission to "Conquer the Kitchen."
"The vows were made when we got married, to take care of each other," said Bantjes.
Shell says they needed help to help to help their wives.
"They don't know how to do the grocery shopping or the menu planning," she said. "Caregiving is stressful, and cooking is stressful if you don't know what you're doing in the kitchen."
"I think so many men like today, their wife has Alzheimers, and they either have forgotten, and if they get information from them, it's not necessarily trustworthly," said Orange, who hopes other men will step up and take the course.
Bantjes says his last cooking lesson was in Boy Scouts; he can do meat and potatoes.
"I can cook vegetables, or overcook them," he said. "I never knew how to make a casserole. That scares me."
Shell's goal is to show that cooking can be easy. "They can go home and feel like they've conquered the kitchen," she said.
Bantjes' goal is to do anything to make life easier on his wife.
"For better or worse, the vows you make. You carry on, one day at a time," he said.
Shell is also teaching the men how to navigate a grocery store and how to plan a menu. The second round of classes start in September.
For more information, click here:
Conquering the Kitchen