This post was written by Olivia Wurgaft, an intern at Bronx Health REACH and student attending Washington University.
As a Global Health major at Washington University, I would like to pursue a career in public health after I graduate. It is one of the reasons I was so happy that, as part of my internship at Bronx Health REACH, I got to work on their Food Service Guidelines initiative with meal serving sites in the Bronx. Specifically, I had the privilege of leading two healthy food demonstrations.
During the month of June, Bronx Health REACH held healthy food demonstrations at the Presbyterian Senior Services Parkside (PSS Parkside) and Presbyterian Senior Services Jackson (PSS Jackson) sites in the Bronx. PSS is a nonprofit agency with nine community centers that strive to strengthen the capacity of older New Yorkers, their families, and communities to thrive. PSS Parkside and Jackson clients receive meals, exercise classes, technology training, group trips, and a multitude of other services. These food demonstrations are part of Bronx Health REACH’s efforts to help sites serve healthier meals to their clients.
Earlier this year, Bronx Health REACH collaborated with Lenox Hill Teaching Kitchen to provide trainings for PSS Jackson and PSS Parkside staff. Lenox Hill Teaching Kitchen designed a daylong food business training to help nonprofit organizations prepare and serve institutional meals that increase fresh, healthy, and local foods to support their clients’ health. The outcome of this training was to gain a better understanding of how to serve meals with more scratch cooking with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less sugar, fat, and salt. At the end of the training the goal of the kitchen staff from PSS Jackson and PSS Parkside is to increase their use of fresh, healthy and local food.
In addition to the training, Bronx Health REACH has been providing PSS Jackson and PSS Parkside with technical support to achieve these goals including food demonstrations. These demonstrations are to introduce healthier food to clients through tastings, give them a say in what appears on their menu, and show them that healthy food can be tasty and inexpensive. Both sites chose “Olga’s Bulgur with Chicken” as the recipe for their demonstration because it includes more vegetables and whole grains and less meat.
Before the demonstration, I went to a supermarket close to the site, to make sure the ingredients were easily available for clients to make the dish themselves. I also made sure to price out the recipe to make sure it was affordable.
At both sites I arrived around lunchtime to prepare for the demonstration. While I was chopping and measuring out the carrots, celery, peas, and garlic, some clients came up to ask what I was doing, which told me they were interested in learning about what they were going to eat. Some were also apprehensive of trying something new, but promised they would keep an open mind. I started each food demonstration with a discussion about the nutritional benefits of each ingredient. I emphasized how the fiber in the bulgur wheat improves digestion, the vitamin A in carrots improves eyesight, and how low sodium soy sauce reduces salt intake, which is particularly beneficial for people with high blood pressure or diabetes.
I sautéed the chicken, added the vegetables and mixed them in with the bulgur wheat, explaining the process as I went along. Before adding it to the pan, I brought the pot of bulgur wheat around to each participant, explaining that it can be used similarly to rice and showing them what it looked like. When the dish was finished, I distributed samples for everyone to try. Participants filled out surveys about the recipe and the demonstration. At PSS Parkside, the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Most of the participants enjoyed the recipe and wanted it on the menu. One client said that the “dish was filling, [and had] nice and crunchy vegetables.” Another loved how it was “economic and easy to make at home.”
At PSS Jackson, the participants were more wary to try a new dish. However, after watching the demonstration and becoming more comfortable with the ingredients, not only did they try it, but they really liked it. One client explained, “I liked this activity because it allowed me to try new and interesting foods that I could possibly have more of in the future.” This comment reaffirmed for me the benefits of food demonstrations and similar programs that expose participants to healthy and tasty options. Without this demonstration, many clients would never have tried bulgur, and now, after liking it, wanted it in their meals. After these successful food demonstrations, I am both excited and hopeful that PSS Parkside and PSS Jackson can easily add healthy, tasty, and economical recipes to their menus to increase the health and well-being of their clients.
This interactive and fun activity was extremely useful in keeping clients educated and involved in menu planning at their sites. Many told me that they wanted to eat healthier, but did not have access to the right ingredients or the knowledge of how to do it in an inexpensive way. Through the food demonstration, they were able to learn about this recipe that will help them do just that. From this experience, I learned that sometimes all it takes to open people up to new ideas, such as eating healthier meals, is the opportunity for them to try it. My internship enabled me to help Bronx Health REACH provide this opportunity. I believe both sites will have an easier transition to a healthier menu.