TOWNSEND -- A sizzling pan of garlic and ginger spread a welcoming aroma through the kitchen.
It was being carefully tended by Peter Salisbury under the watchful eye of chef and dietician Nancy Fillers.
At the center island, Jerry Sawyer chopped a bowl full of green onions to use as garnish.
Barbara Thaxter and Linda Matson scurried around, doing whatever needed to be done: washing dishes, setting the table and warming the brown rice.
You might think it was a gourmet cooking class at the Townsend Senior Center the morning of Sept. 5. In fact, it was part of an eight-week program offered by the Montachusett Opportunity Council called Seniors on the Move.
The class is intended to teach seniors with a chronic illness or condition how to shop for and prepare healthy, low-fat and low-sodium meals, said Fillers who works for MOC Elder Services.
Portion control and exercise is also covered during the eight weeks.
Before starting to prepare the meal, the group talked about the dinners they ate the night before, evaluating them for size and for fat and sodium content.
The group decided everyone could have reduced the fat in their meals, Fillers said.
The class "makes me think more about many things," Thaxter said.
For her, most of the information is not new, but hearing it again keeps it in her mind when she is grocery shopping.
Matson, whose favorite part of the class is eating what everyone prepares together, has
"Everybody knows you have to eat right and exercise," she said.
Initially, Salisbury thought the weekly three-hour commitment for the eight session would be too long.
"I was wondering how it would be," he said.
"The time went by fast," Matson replied.
For Sawyer, the class took away his fear of cooking, a task he never really enjoyed. Now he has prepared healthy recipes learned during the class at home.
"Most everybody has more experience with cooking. It's always fun talking about it. It's really super," he said.
Salisbury finished sauteing the aromatics and browning the chicken. A little liquid and the meat was left to cook while Sawyer stir-fried bok choy and jicama.
At each meal, Fillers introduces food the participants might never have tried. The jicama, a root vegetable, tasted a bit like pea pods, Matson and Thaxter said.
The men worked together to reduce a sauce to drizzle over the chicken. Although it used high-sodium ingredients, not much would be used for each serving.
Soon, it was time to feast on the meal.
Fillers used an easy to remember formula to plate the food: one-quarter whole grains, one-quarter protein - between three and five ounces, and one-half vegetables and fruits.
As for that high-sodium sauce with the consistency of honey? Put a little on a spoon, hold it well above the plate and allow a bit to drizzle onto the meal.
After everyone had served themselves and admired the final product, Fillers encouraged everyone to enjoy the smell of the feast.
Then it was time to dig in.
"First you eat with your eyes, then your nose and then your mouth," she said.
Each participant in the Seniors on the Move Program led by Fillers over the last five years has shown measurable health improvements; weight loss, reduction in blood pressure or developing healthier eating habits, she said.
The classes were funded by a grant from the Central Massachusetts Agency on Aging. MOC will probably offer another series of classes in Townsend, most likely the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, Fillers said.