That nutritious twist on traditional recipes is part of the “Healthy Cooking” class at the El Monte Community Resource Center. It’s one of several Centers operated Blue Shield of California Promise and L.A. Care health plans in Los Angeles County. The Centers offer free community cooking and nutrition classes, and other activities and classes to help people develop healthy living habits.
Buen provecho! Lots of smiles among our cooking class participants
Classes feature hands-on food preparation
“What motivates me to come is the variety of the recipes the instructor teaches us." - Maria
Laura demonstrates how to incorporate healthy foods into traditional recipes
“We learned to make healthy recipes and more importantly, about the benefits of the foods and products we used." - Alicia (far right)
With more than a dozen different classes to choose from, the Centers have something for everyone. There are exercise sessions, including yoga and Zumba, as well as classes about chronic conditions like diabetes, where exercise and nutrition are important. Interactive opportunities include “The Art of Fruits and Vegetables” and “The World of Juicing and Salads,” which feature cooking demonstrations and hands-on food preparation, focusing on incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into meal planning.
Each of the Centers has a unique personality, based on the community members who visit regularly and the local culture. That “personality” also helps the staff and professional nutritionists plan the foods that participants will prepare.
In El Monte, most of the adults in the cooking classes are familiar with traditional Mexican dishes and prepare them at home for their families. The Center built on that foundation by starting with the basic taco, then switching up the ingredients. Now, students have learned to make hibiscus tacos as a healthier alternative.
“Culture is an important part of what we do,” said Mayra Velasco, who manages the El Monte Center. “We’re helping people in our community learn how to cook the meals they grew up with, but in a healthy way.”
For those who are skeptical that their families would welcome the change, the Center staff encourages them to bring in spouses or kids to try the new dish. Once they do, “they are in awe of how good the food is,” Velasco said.
“Making healthier food choices is very important for me to manage my diabetes and keep me off of insulin,” said Maria Reinosa, a class participant. “What motivates me to come to the cooking classes is the variety of recipes the instructor teaches us. I am from El Salvador and each week I learn something new that helps me control my diabetes.”
At the newest Community Resource Center in Norwalk, children ages 5 and older attend “Cooking for Kids” classes, where they learn how to make healthy snacks for themselves. The class not only shows them what to do but lets them explore the kitchen.
“Instead of coming home and grabbing chips, kids learn how to cut up vegetables or make healthy ‘nachos’ with apple slices and peanut butter,” said Maria Jurado, manager of the Norwalk Center. “It’s fun and the kids really like it.”
“I go to cooking and juicing classes at five different Centers because education about the benefits of the food and products we use during the session helps me,” said participant Alicia Ramirez. “I’ve shared the recipes with my son, and he is now making his own healthy juices.”
In addition to cooking classes, the Centers also feature food pantries that provide people with access to free, healthy food that may not always be available or affordable at local markets.
“There are so many ways our two health plans can put our resources to work to meet the needs of the community and help them thrive,” Velasco said. “It’s the simple little things that matter. If the community is healthy and thriving, it affects everybody’s health outcomes."