As the Principal of Wilson Middle School walks by the Parent Center, a sweet and savory aroma wafts through the hallways. He opens the door to see a group of parents inside. The scent gets stronger. The parents are part of an effort to explore tasty, nutritious and affordable recipes and are cooking a homemade dish for their families. In the words of a parent volunteer from Hoover High School, “The children are our future. If children grow up with poor nutrition, they are going to see a lot of disease in their lifetime.”
According to the State of Childhood Obesity in San Diego County in 2016, over one-third (34.2%) of San Diego County fifth, seventh, and ninth grade children enrolled in public schools in school year 2014-15 were overweight or obese. In response to the growing concern around obesity, Promotoras de la Salud was formed in 2014 to help students and families adopt healthy behaviors and learn about nutrition and cooking. The group, comprised of six parent leaders from the Hoover High School Cluster Wellness Council, worked to create a safe environment for City Heights parents to learn about cooking healthful dishes that would be welcomed by their families.
Since beginning at Hoover High School, the Promotoras de la Salud, in partnership with the County of San Diego Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Program, The California Endowment, and Sterlington Consulting, have reached a total of six school sites and over 200 parents in Central San Diego with a seven-session Nutrition Cooking Club. Thus far, participating schools in the San Diego Unified School District include Central Elementary School, Joyner Elementary School, Monroe Clark Middle School, Rosa Parks Elementary School, and Wilson Middle School.
The overarching message in each workshop session was drawn from the MyPlate nutrition guide, a federally funded program that aims to educate people about the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy). A key message brought to each session was the value of increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables to help decrease the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
An important goal has been to ensure that all recipes presented in the nutrition series would be accepted culturally by the predominately Latino community. A few class favorites are: Vegetable Quesadillas and Banana Pancakes. In addition, fruit or herb infused water was provided at each session to encourage hydration without added sugar.
Still, it is not easy to make sustainable changes at home. One participant reflected that people have grown accustomed to fried foods and tortillas until the point of being overly full. She noted the importance of making small changes, having a lot of patience and being persistent. One practical tip she found useful was to have raw carrots and bell peppers with lemon ready for easy and healthy snacking. She also found making large batches of food and freezing the left overs for time-crunched days was helpful.
At the last class, participants brought healthy dishes to share for the graduation potluck. The home-cooked dishes of cauliflower ceviche, lentil soup, and kale sauté arrived in the arms of the proud participants. These dishes have been incorporated into their family menus, evidence of improved dietary changes as a result of the Promotoras de la Salud’s leadership.