Kitchenistas classes on healthy cooking offer caregivers another way to nurture

Nonprofit’s program in National City helps families learn to prepare more nutritious meals

Sorina Vasquez (left, front) takes a break from cooking for a photo during a Kitchenistas class at Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City. The nonprofit center offers an array of classes on gardening and cooking with nutritious foods.
(Courtesy of Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center)

Healthy eating and cooking are key elements that help family caregivers tend to both their loved ones’ and their own nutritional needs. A proper diet can give someone more energy to get through their routine as a caregiver, according to AARP, and in some cases, it can diminish the harmful effects of some health conditions.

It’s a topic that has inspired the Kitchenistas community education program at Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City. The nonprofit center offers a range of classes aimed toward adults and children, both in the garden and the kitchen.

Poor nutritional routines — such as consuming too much salt, fat and refined sugar — have been linked to adverse behavioral symptoms and weight loss for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

For children, learning healthy eating habits may also help to reduce the risk of obesity and heart disease when they reach adulthood, according to an American Heart Association article published earlier this year in ScienceDaily.

“It makes a big difference in your life — I think it makes your life easier and you don’t struggle with a lot of, like, different health issues,” said Jacqueline Ante, a volunteer coordinator with Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center.

“If you already have a chronic disease, you can control that through food. I think that’s the biggest benefit.”

At Olivewood, families can learn how to cook healthier meals, affordably purchase nourishing ingredients, and grow their own fruits and vegetables. Through the eight-week, bilingual English and Spanish Cooking for Salud program, people can learn the basics of preparing healthy meals at home before graduating into the seven-week Kitchenistas program. The Kitchenistas can then become advocates for healthy eating at the National School District elementary schools, which has the highest rate of childhood obesity among elementary school districts in San Diego County, according to the 2019 State of Childhood Obesity report.

For Sorina Vazquez , learning more nutritious cooking methods was essential to improving the life of her daughter Brenda.

Before the family’s experience with the Cooking for Salud and Kitchenistas programs at Olivewood Gardens, Brenda had been diagnosed with obesity, prediabetes and fatty liver disease, the term for a range of health conditions when too much fat is stored in the liver. Vazquez first got involved with the nonprofit when she brought her daughters to the Chefcitos class for children; she then took classes herself.

“I learned how can I cook my grains easier, because when I went there the first time, I didn’t know how to cook quinoa, I didn’t know how to cook my wholegrain rice,” she said. “Now I know how can I cook that and how I can make my own vegetable bowls.”

After attending Olivewood Gardens courses for five years, Vazquez said Brenda, 16, and her 11-year-old daughter Jessica are more apt to reach for healthy snacks than junk food. The lifestyle change has had a major impact on the family’s health status. Brenda has been cleared of all three health conditions.

“Today, they love to go to the garden and learn how they can eat healthier, and now they choose healthier snacks and more fruits and vegetables,” Vazquez said. “Every time when I take (my daughters) to the doctor appointments for a physical, the doctor always asks me, ‘How did you do this? You’re a wonderful mom, how did you learn to cook healthy for the daughters?’ ”

As social distancing continues during the COVID-19 pandemic, Olivewood has migrated its programs to the virtual space. The Kitchenistas program meets weekly on Fridays through video chat, and other virtual meetings, like the Chefcitos program and meditation classes, are scheduled throughout the month.

For more information about Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center, or the Cooking for Salud and Kitchenistas programs, visit the website, call (619) 434-4281 or email info@olivewoodgardens.org.

This story was first published in the CaregiverSD section of The San Diego Union-Tribune on Sept. 15, 2020. For more stories on caregiving and senior care, visit CaregiverSD.com

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