The Happy Kitchen

By Valeria Morrow

It’s a beautiful spring afternoon and Mirela García is playing in the front yard with sons Javier and Eduardo before heading in to prepare a nutritious meal. It wasn’t so long ago, though, that Mirela faced a much different reality. As she struggled to make ends meet on a fixed income, the last thing on her mind was the family’s diet. Their routine included nutritionally-deficient, yet-calorie-dense fast and packaged foods and lethargic afternoons in front of the television.

Though Mirela worried about her husband’s diabetes and high blood pressure, Javier’s increasing weight and her own persistent lack of energy, she didn’t seek out Sustainable Food Center’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre™ (THK). Instead, it found her.

Signing up for an English language program at her sons’ school, Mirela had no idea that something extra came with the registration. She was thrilled and intrigued to learn that THK cooking and nutrition classes were included at no charge.

During the six-week series taught by facilitators (once participants like herself), Mirela began learning about things like the amount of sugar found in soda, and the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Soon Mirela’s kitchen began to look different—as did her family.

“We all look and feel healthier,” Mirela says, “and spend a lot more time bonding together.”

Like Mirela, hundreds of THK participants have put their family’s health back on track. The curriculum utilizes a fun, interactive and realistic approach that allows participants to gain and exchange information.

“I loved the fact that it wasn’t ‘in your face’ finger pointing,” notes participant Jennifer Rivero. “They provided the information, and we could take it or leave it.”

The take-home ingredient bag used to make featured recipes is one of the many components THK uses to facilitate the transition toward establishing a healthier diet. During class, participants describe how they prepared the recipe, and how their family or friends received it.

 As word spreads, THK strives to expand and serve a larger segment of the population. Although the free cooking classes have been offered to underserved parts of Austin for years, the demand for them has exceeded the current scope. Recently, THK completed a pilot series for breast cancer survivors. It was a successful first attempt to help bridge the gap in services provided by the medical community. As diet-related disease statistics soar and the concept of preventive health gains momentum, the timing for growth is perfect.

Valeria Morrow is program coordinator for The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre.™