Via Esperanza’s Cooking Club is a Hot, Tasty Ticket this Summer

Magic happens twice weekly this summer around 12:30 PM in the Via Esperanza Cooking Club classroom at Cook Middle School.

That’s when roughly 20 children rush in to be reunited with their parents and sit down to a special lunch. With bright smiles they jump into their seats for five healthy versions of traditional dishes prepared by their parents, who for the last hour had learned and cooked the recipes. Like most mothers, Gloria and Alejandra attend because they love cooking and want to learn more about nutrition for their children. Gloria has learned to make healthier salads and to incorporate alternatives to refined sugar and white rice into her recipes. Alejandra signed up for the class after completing CAP Sonoma’s Pasitos and Avance programs and raves about the healthier recipes for traditional Aguas.

While Sylvia, the teacher, says it’s “Important to have fun” – and the classroom is bursting with it -serious business is at hand. Recipes, she says, must use inexpensive ingredients, be quick to prepare, and have healthy amounts of calories, protein and vitamins. Sylvia focuses on “good fat” and carbohydrates (olive oil is used widely) when choosing and modifying the recipes. She notes the importance of iron, for example, and that many traditional dishes have less iron and more bad carbohydrates than she would like to see.

The threat of diabetes is another important trend Sylvia hopes to help her students address. Such health concerns are part of why Kaiser Permanente funds a substantial part of Cooking Club as part of its Community Benefit program’s goal of “Healthy Eating and Active Living”. The program has a mission to “increase access to healthy, affordable foods, including fresh produce, and decrease access to unhealthy food.” Kaiser’s research shows that 30% of children in the Santa Rosa community do not consume enough fruit and vegetables, 15% are in poverty, and 47% are eligible for school lunch assistance1.

The Cooking Club is at capacity and demand continues to increase as word spreads. It’s no wonder- “I can’t imagine everything I was missing,” says one parents as she looks up from her child enjoying a healthy cup of Atole de avena con guayaba (the traditional Mesoamerican beverage, modified to use oatmeal and guava instead of masa and cane sugar.)

Thank you again to the Kaiser Permanente Foundation’s Community Benefit program for their generous support of Via Esperanza’s Cooking Club classes for a second year in a row!

-Article graciously contributed by CAP Sonoma volunteer Byron Sebastian