Food Bank, Watsonville Library partner for cooking and child nutrition – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Is it impossible to turn kids who hate blueberries into kids who not only like them, but are willing to use them in a recipe? Second Harvest Food Bank and the Watsonville Public Library recently collaborated to produce this miracle and more.

Recipe Remix is ​​a Monday evening series of four events at the library, two in June and two in July (the last being July 15). Facilitated by Second Harvest staff, each 90-minute program includes nutrition education for children and a “cooking cart demonstration” where attendees—sometimes including parents or other family members—get to taste the final products. The series was very popular from the start, with 16 children showing up to the first one.

“The cooking cart demonstrations are effective, because they keep the younger audience engaged,” says Vanessa Arizmendi, director of fitness and nutrition at Second Harvest. “It’s a short lesson and a recipe all in 90 minutes.” Arizmendi oversees the nutrition team, consisting of Nutrition Education Manager Delia Bernal and Nutrition Education Coordinator Lizzett Sanchez Nol, who conduct cooking demonstrations, cooking clubs and nutrition classes for the public, and at Second Harvest distribution sites.

Sanchez Nol was the instructor for the first Recipe Remix session, where most attendees gave the yogurt parfait recipe two thumbs up. “The kids were really excited,” she says. “Some people don’t realize that getting kids involved in the kitchen and cooking can teach them a lot. In all our recipes, we use fresh fruit and vegetables. This encourages healthy eating as the children are happy to eat the food they helped prepare.”

For example, Sanchez Nol noticed time and time again that children come into classes saying they don’t like blueberries. “After we teach them about the health benefits of blueberries and help them create a fun and creative recipe, they’ll not only eat the blueberries but really enjoy them,” she says. “I love it when things like this happen!”

Sessions begin with Sanchez Nol or Bernal spending about 20 minutes on nutrition education covering topics such as “What is a Whole Grain” or “The Importance of a Colored Plate.” After that, for the next 45 minutes the instructor and the group make a hands-on recipe that reinforces what is taught in the nutrition education portion of the exhibit. “For example, if we (Delia or I) teach a lesson on whole grains we include a recipe on how to incorporate healthy whole grain options into their diet,” she explains.

In addition to teaching, Sanchez Nol is involved in designing and creating a nutrition curriculum. “I find my role very fulfilling,” she says. “As well as playing a vital role in improving the health and wellbeing of the community, I get to engage with individuals on a personal level. They share stories about their families as well as the hardships and decisions they face to achieve optimal health. This is vital to providing the best possible services to our community.”

Sanchez Nol says a successful nutrition program is not limited to nutrition education. “Instead, it’s paired with a cooking class that aligns with a mission that promotes healthier eating habits, fosters creativity and improves life skills. I believe that is why the nutrition program at Second Harvest is so successful.”

Delia Bernal led the second Recipe Remix session, with a smoothie recipe featuring bananas, strawberries and blueberries. “The children really enjoyed cutting the ingredients and adding them to the blender. One of their favorite parts was tasting the end result,” says Bernal. The session also included an activity where participants had to look at images of fruits and vegetables and determine the specific health benefits they provide based on their colors.

The roots of Recipe Remix? The library, which received a grant and recently purchased a charter to conduct cooking demonstrations, approached Second Harvest to see if staff were available to provide cooking demonstrations with a nutrition education component. “I saw this as a great opportunity for us to reach out to kids during the summer,” says Arizmendi. “The recipes are quick and easy to recreate on their own.”

In the summer, when children are not in school and do not have access to free or reduced-cost food programs, nutrition is especially important. Some organizations (like the library and Second Harvest) focus on providing options for students and families. Bernal enjoyed participating in Recipe Remix and looks forward to future partnerships. “It’s a great way to come together to support each other’s organizations and support the community.”

Bernal is a strong supporter of nutrition education. “As a mother and grandmother, I believe that having any space for our families to gather and prepare food is essential to sustaining a family,” she says. “The cookery demonstrations provide great opportunities for the public to experience different approaches to preparing familiar foods. Part of our mission is also to encourage members of the public about cooking at home and to develop their creativity.”

Cooking cart shows like Recipe Remix are “one-off shows” where the Food Bank may or may not see the participants again. Second Harvest also provides year-round nutrition education including “cooking clubs,” which require six-month commitments from attendees. “There is a sequence to the lessons and the recipes; together they create a whole experience that builds on each other,” says Arizmendi.

In recent years, the nonprofit began conducting an annual survey of clients regarding its services and asked what types of food people want to see distributed. “This has led to more data-driven decision making when it comes to food purchases and recipes,” says Josue Barajas, Second Harvest’s chief program officer. “We learned that more people wanted to learn how to cook and make healthier food choices, so we created cooking clubs to fill the gap. Families can come to these clubs and learn how to make delicious, healthy recipes. At the end of the class, they take home a box filled with ingredients to continue practicing at home.”

Participant surveys always follow the clubs. “I know we have an impact when the recipes we introduce are well received and our participants in our past survey report that they would cook the recipe at home,” says Arizmendi. “On average, 90% say they would.” Arizmendi is very proud of the work she and her team do. “Not only do we help our community address their food insecurity, but we’re also able to give them the tools they need to be successful in cooking and experimenting with new ingredients.”

The last session of Recipe Remix will be at the Watsonville Library, 275 Main Street, from 1:30-3pm July 15th. All ages are welcome.

The Second Harvest Food Bank will hold its inaugural Party in the Parking Lot on August 3rd. There will be food trucks and a performance by The Joint Chiefs. Go to to learn more.

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