Food Services teams up with Community Health to take on Obesity

Food Services and Community Health teach a smart cooking class

To help Boston families learn some new skills in the kitchen, the Office of Community Health joined forces with experts in our Food Services Department: Shawn Goldrick, director of Patient Support Services, John DiSessa, director of Food Services, Colin Targett, executive chef, Rick Barisano, Food Services operations manager and Michael Levine, Patient Support Services Compliance & Regulatory specialist. Together, the departments developed "Smart Cooking" as part of Boston Children's Fitness in the City Program, a partnership between the Office of Community Health and 10 community health centers to address the issue of obesity in Boston neighborhoods.

With funding from the Leon Lowenstein Foundation, Inc., the team was able to provide two Smart Cooking sessions, develop a new cookbook for families and give additional funding to community health centers to formulate their own cooking classes.

Families get cooking

Nine families participated in the first Smart Cooking class held at Curtis Hall Community Center in Jamaica Plain. The 25 participants - parents and their children ages 8 to 12 - were mentored by the five professional chefs and members of the Food Service Department. The focus of the class was on cooking balanced meals and engaging the family in the kitchen. "This was three hours of hands-on skill-building for the whole family, with a couple of key goals," says Stacy Leavens, Fitness in the City coordinator and program coordinator in the Office of Community Health. "One was to equip parents with the knowledge, confidence, skills and tools needed to make healthier meals. Another was to get children involved and interested, the thought being that kids might be more likely to try new foods if they've had a hand in making them."

Food Services and Community Health teach a smart cooking class

The Food Services team developed a culturally appropriate and affordable menu. It featured both familiar and new foods for families. "Pizza is familiar to children, but whole-wheat flatbread pizza with eggplant on it probably isn't," says Leavens. Participants learned how to make not only the pizza, but also an arugula salad, Brazilian chicken and vegetables and a yogurt parfait. They also learned how to maximize ingredients. "We highlighted a lot of vegetables in the menu," says DiSessa. "We suggested to our cooks for the day that they use the same vegetables for the chicken on their pizza."

Everyone who participated left the class happy, full and armed with new tools and skills, even the Food Service team. "We want to work more closely with our community," says DiSessa. "In partnering with the Office of Community Health to develop this program, our staff learned how we can better support community needs. We want to continue to be involved in this and other education efforts to help people understand how to cook and eat well."

The next Smart Cooking class will take place on Wednesday, August 13, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Nurtury Learning Lab in Jamaica Plain. The Smart Cooking cookbook will be available later this summer. Call the Office of Community Health at 617-919-3055 for more information.