Red Shield nurtures body and soul

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Everyday Food encourages healthy meals and lifestyles for Latino families.

by Sue Schumann Warner –

Gladi Chacon and Lily Paramount add the final ingredients to today’s recipe: cashew chicken.

It’s noon on Saturday at The Salvation Army’s Los Angeles Red Shield Youth Center, and over in the auditorium, Consuelo Tzian and Mirna Castro are busy chopping garlic and slicing green onions for today’s cooking project: cashew chicken—and paying close attention to the chicken that is cooking on a grill beside them, making sure it browns evenly.

Nearby, eleven other women stand in twos and threes at folding tables, also chopping and slicing, and stirring their chicken—while intently reviewing the photo and recipe in Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food: Great Food Fast cookbook, the resource for this class.

And to a woman, the course—with its simple recipes, easy to find ingredients and emphasis on healthy foods—has been life changing.

Cooking with a purpose
“These recipes, and the easy and nutritious approach to cooking, have revolutionized the way these women cook for their families,” said Irene DeAnda Lewis, Red Shield director and originator of the cooking class. “They would never have prepared these meals before.”

She picks up the cookbook and points out items like turkey burgers, roasted salmon with lemon sauce, sautéed bok choi and broccoli, fish tacos and Vietnamese steak sandwiches. “These are some of the things we’ve made,” she says with a smile. “Quite an experience for the Latino women and men in the class.”

Lewis knows what she’s talking about. While born and raised in California, her heritage is Mexican, and Spanish was her first language…and she grew up eating traditional foods. Now, her passion for educating Latinas about healthy eating and healthy lifestyles is infectious. And she loves to cook.

“The Hispanic population is at great risk for obesity and diabetes,” Lewis explains. “My goal in starting this class was to teach people how to prepare healthy, nutritious meals that are quick, easy, and use common ingredients.”

As an afterthought, she adds that 90 percent of the women who attend also are participate in an aerobics class at the Red Shield. “They complained that they were getting a lot of exercise—but couldn’t lose weight. They didn’t realize the effect their unhealthy eating habits had on their body.”

Unlike many cooking classes, this one is not a demonstration, but is totally hands-on. While Lewis—who conducts the class in Spanish—provides instructions, tips and encouragement, each woman participates in preparing and cooking the meal in her own small group.

And thanks to Martha Stewart, each woman has her own Everyday Food cookbook.

Better than fast food
The popular class started last July and enrollment has been steady; while most of the participants are women, ages 28-67, two men have also regularly taken part. Due to a generous $15,000 grant by the California Hospital Medical Center to fund the program, the cost for each 1 1/2 hour class is just $2. “It’s affordable,” comments Lewis, who notes that the women, most of whom work outside their homes, enjoy the time they spend cooking together. After preparing the food, they sit and enjoy eating it.

When asked about their favorite recipes, Consuelo and Mirna quickly respond:

“The spaghetti with turkey meatballs,” says Mirna. “That’s my children’s favorite. They used want to eat fast food, but since I’ve been using this (recipe) book, we have tried lots of different recipes. They will look through the book and see a picture, and say, ‘Let’s try that!’ Now they want to eat food that is healthy.”

Consuelo adds the turkey burger was a favorite in her family—and that everyone is eating more vegetables. “My children are 13 and 15, and they love the new foods. I am from Guatemala, and this way of cooking is better for us.”

Exposure to new ingredients has been a pleasant experience for the women. “Hispanic kitchens don’t normally have soy sauce or sesame or olive oil,” said Pat Valencia. “I’m learning to use less salt, and to use more olive oil. It’s much healthier cooking.”

“Thanks to Martha”
After Lewis saw the women’s response to what they were learning about food and nutrition, she wrote Stewart and thanked her for her publication, which had inspired her to start the class, and for the healthy recipes in the cookbook.

To her surprise, Stewart read her letter on her television show, and then contacted her, to thank Irene for what she was doing to educate the Latina women about healthy cooking. That phone conversation will air on an upcoming show.

Commenting on the launch of the class, Martha Stewart said: “We are thrilled to support the ongoing work of Irene and her team at The Salvation Army. Her introduction of healthy living through her Everyday Food cooking class is truly an inspiration and really warmed the hearts of everyone at Martha Stewart Living.

“Irene’s commitment to improving the quality of life for families in the Pico Union community is truly a good thing and we applaud her desire to make a difference.”

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