Eating well on a budget
Monthly student-led classes teach participants healthful cooking
“How do you chop jicama?” Emily McMillen asked her audience at a recent “Eat Right When Money is Tight” class.
“I like to peel it first,” one woman offered.
“You just have to get a big old knife and go for it,” suggested another.
This was typical of the good-natured banter being exchanged at a casual, interactive workshop hosted by OPT for Healthy Living, a community nutrition-education program of Chico State’s Center for Nutrition Activity Promotion (CNAP).
Seven participants braved the rain Dec. 20 and dashed inside the OPT office on Mangrove Avenue. Within the spacious office brimming with nutrition books, kitchen tools and equipment, and posters promoting healthful eating, folding chairs faced a cooking demonstration area in the back.
There, Chico State University nutrition students McMillen, Chrissi Williams, Alicia Ashton and Emma Sharif prepared to lead sections of the class under the theme of “Hungry for Jicama.” A root vegetable, jicama is an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber, and is packed with complex carbohydrates to provide energy for the body and brain. It is in season from December through June.
Cooking demonstrations playing on a big screen welcomed guests to find a seat in front of the test kitchen, until a neatly organized PowerPoint presentation accompanying the educational seminar took over, underscoring the information being discussed by the student instructors.
The monthly Eat Right classes began in mid-2009 under the direction of Karen Goodwin, a nutrition specialist and program manager at OPT. They were developed to address the challenges people with fewer resources face when it comes to eating well, she explained in an email.
Goodwin talked about “food insecurity”—not having enough food available—and “nutrient insecurity,” and how Eat Right classes focus on the latter. “Nutrient-dense foods are those packed with vitamins and minerals, in relation to calorie count. Calories can be cheap, such as in fast food, chips and sodas. Eating nutrient-dense can be more difficult, especially when these foods require more of preparation,” Goodwin said.
In Butte County, according to CNAP statistics, 59 percent of adults are overweight, compared to the national rate of 69 percent. Local children, however, 35 percent of whom are overweight or obese in Butte County, exceed the national average of 32 percent. The goal of OPT’s Eat Right classes is to educate whole families, especially on the nutritional needs of children.
After years of family nutrition consultations at OPT, Goodwin found that people avoided eating many types of healthful foods simply because they were unfamiliar with the ways to cook with them. “This program was designed to expose participants to fruits, vegetables and grains that they may have heard of, but have little experience preparing,” she said.
“The inspiration for the classes was a result of community discussions on the growing ‘food insecurity’ in the North State,” she said. “Food distributions were increasing, but the focus was on calories, while OPT’s mission is on nutrients. I thought designing skill-building workshops, with food giveaways, would help bridge the gap between knowing that one should eat healthier with knowing how to do so.
Each class features college students giving live cooking demonstrations as well as food-budgeting tips.
“CNAP provides service-learning opportunities for students in nutrition and other health-related educational fields,” Goodwin said.
During December’s class, the students passed around samples of jicama and its root-vegetable cousins, sweet potatoes and turnips. Participants were invited to taste, as well as share suggestions on preparing and serving the featured ingredients.
A jicama edamame salad brought together the tangy-sweet combination of lime juice, jicama and a dash of hot minced jalapeño. The tender texture of the ripe avocado paired nicely with the chewier consistencies of the corn and crunchy jicama.
OPT is funded by the Network for a Healthy California, a program affiliated with the California Department of Public Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Families with qualifying incomes receive a free bag of food at the end of each class.
Goodwin said the classes “offer a new taste experience for the whole family … They say ‘the proof is in the pudding.’ At OPT, we hope that becomes persimmon pudding.”
Jicama edamame salad
16 ounces shelled, frozen edamame
2 cups corn, frozen
1 large avocado, diced
2 cups jicama, diced
1 jalapeño, finely minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add edamame and corn. Boil for five minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a large bowl, combine edamame, corn, avocado, jicama, jalapeño and cilantro. Drizzle with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Let chill for 1-2 hours before serving.