Watsonville Food Bank and Library Partner to Provide Cooking and Nutrition for Kids – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Does it sound impossible to turn kids who hate blueberries into kids who not only love them, but want to use them in a recipe? The Second Harvest Food Bank and the Watsonville Public Library recently teamed up to produce this wonder and more.

Recipe Remix is ​​a series of four Monday afternoon events at the library, two in June and two in July (the last one is July 15). Each 90-minute program is facilitated by Second Harvest staff and includes nutrition education for kids and “cooking cart demos” where participants—sometimes parents or other family members—get to taste the finished products. The series was popular from the start, with 16 kids showing up for the first one.

“The cooking cart demonstrations are effective because they engage younger audiences,” says Vanessa Arizmendi, Second Harvest’s director of wellness and nutrition. “It’s a quick lesson and a recipe, all in 90 minutes.” Arizmendi oversees the nutrition team, which includes Nutrition Education Manager Delia Bernal and Nutrition Education Coordinator Lizzett Sanchez Nol, who provide cooking demonstrations, cooking clubs and nutrition classes in the community and at Second Harvest’s distribution sites.

Sanchez Nol was the instructor for the first Recipe Remix session, where the majority of attendees gave the yogurt parfait recipe two thumbs up. “The kids were really excited,” she says. “Some people don’t realize that they can learn a lot by getting kids in the kitchen and cooking. We use fresh fruits and vegetables in all of our recipes. It encourages healthy eating because kids are open to the food they’ve helped make.”

For example, Sanchez Nol has repeatedly seen children come into the classroom and say they don’t like blueberries. “After we teach them about the health benefits of blueberries and help them create a fun, creative recipe, they end up not only eating the blueberries, but actually enjoying them,” she says. “I love it when things like this happen!”

The sessions begin with Sanchez Nol or Bernal spending about 20 minutes on nutrition education on topics like “What is a Whole Grain” or “The Importance of a Colorful Plate.” Then, over the next 45 minutes, the instructor and group create a hands-on recipe that reinforces what was learned in the nutrition education portion of the demo. “For example, if we (Delia or I) are teaching a lesson on whole grains, we’ll include a recipe on how to incorporate healthy whole grain options into your diet,” she explains.

In addition to teaching, Sanchez Nol is involved in designing and creating nutrition curricula. “I find my role very rewarding,” she says. “In addition to playing a critical role in improving the health and well-being of the community, I also get to connect with people on a personal level. They share stories about their families and the hardships and determinants that influence them to achieve optimal health. This is essential to providing the best possible services to our community.”

Sanchez Nol says a successful nutrition program isn’t limited to nutrition education. “Instead, it’s combined with a cooking class that aligns with a mission that promotes healthier eating habits, inspires creativity, and improves life skills. I believe that’s why the nutrition program at Second Harvest is successful.”

Delia Bernal led the second Recipe Remix session, featuring a smoothie recipe with bananas, strawberries and blueberries. “The kids really enjoyed chopping up the ingredients and putting them in the blender. Tasting the end result was one of their favorite parts,” Bernal says. The session also included an activity where participants had to look at pictures of fruits and vegetables and determine specific health benefits based on their colors.

Recipe Remix’s roots? The library, which had received a grant and had recently purchased a cart to do cooking demonstrations, reached out to Second Harvest to see if they had staff available to do cooking demonstrations with a nutrition education component. “I saw this as a great opportunity for us to reach kids during the summer,” Arizmendi says. “The recipes are quick and easy to make yourself.”

In the summer, when children are out of school and don’t have access to free or low-cost food programs, nutrition is especially important. Some organizations (like the library and Second Harvest) focus on providing options for students and families. Bernal has enjoyed being part of Recipe Remix and looks forward to future partnerships. “Combining forces is a great way to support each other’s organizations and the community.”

Bernal is a strong advocate for nutrition education. “As a mother and grandmother, I believe that any space where our families come together and prepare food is essential to feeding a family,” she says. “The cooking demonstrations provide a great opportunity for the community to experience different approaches to preparing food that they are familiar with. Inspiring community members about cooking at home and developing their creativity is also part of our mission.”

Cooking cart demonstrations like Recipe Remix are “one-time” events that The Food Bank may or may not see again. Second Harvest also offers year-round nutrition education, including “cooking clubs,” which require participants to commit to a six-month commitment. “There’s a sequence to the lessons and the recipes; together they create a whole experience that builds on each other,” Arizmendi says.

In recent years, the nonprofit has begun surveying customers annually about its services and asking what types of food people want to see at distributions. “This has led to more data-driven decision-making around food purchases and recipes,” says Josue Barajas, Second Harvest’s chief programs officer. “We found that more people wanted to learn how to cook and make healthier food choices, so we created cooking clubs to help bridge that gap. Families can come to these clubs and learn how to make delicious, healthy recipes. At the end of the class, they take home a box of ingredients to practice at home.”

The clubs are always followed up with participant surveys. “I know we’re making an impact when the recipes we introduce are well-received and our participants say in our post-survey that they would cook the recipe at home,” says Arizmendi. “On average, 90 percent say they would.” Arizmendi is very proud of the work she and her team are doing. “Not only are we helping our community feed their food insecurity, but we’re also able to give them the tools they need to successfully cook with and try new ingredients.”

The final session of Recipe Remix at the Watsonville Library, 275 Main St., is from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on July 15. All ages are welcome.

Second Harvest Food Bank is hosting its inaugural party in the parking lot on August 3. There will be food trucks and a performance by The Joint Chiefs. Visit thefoodbank.org/partyintheparkinglot for more information.

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