Sodexo Commentary

Cross-Cultural Healthy Food Choices

By Dr. Rohini Anand, Ph.D
May 7th, 2012

Dr. Rohini Anand

Traveling for work on a Saturday is not my preferred way to spend a weekend. And yet attending a Saturday morning session of MALDEF’s (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) PSP initiative (Parent School Partnership Program) at the University of Illinois in Chicago was an amazing experience.  

 The PSP initiative brings together parents and their children in three cities to educate them on matters of health and wellness.  Championed by Sodexo Executive Chef Sterling Smith and supported by Sodexo chefs and dieticians, parents and children learn about making healthy food choices, portion sizes, nutrition and cooking tips and techniques.

For this event, twenty, mostly Latina, mothers and their children sat intently listening to and watching live cooking demonstrations by Chef Sterling.  Chef Sterling emphasized small changes and education as the key to improving the health and wellness of the entire Latino community.

Chef Sterling had us all mesmerized; moving masterfully from a cooking demonstration to asking for volunteers to guess “good” and “bad” ingredients to challenging us to calculate the calorie and fat content of processed foods. And all this while using a Spanish translator, Isabel Reyes, Director, Chicago Parent School Partnership, MALDEF.

The mothers and students enjoyed the foods, but more importantly learned about ingredients in processed foods and the fat and calorie content. The surprise on their faces when they saw what one serving size of cereal looked like was priceless!

Parents and students taste healthy and nutritious recipes at the MALDEF event. Click on the picture for additional photos of the event.

They learned, tasted and left with recipes for breakfast Quesada’s, ceviche, refreshing tomato and red pepper soup, whole wheat pancakes, fruit smoothies, chicken, rice and beans and a chicken breast sandwich. All these were made from ingredients that were familiar and culturally relevant.

For someone who does not enjoy cooking, I was captivated for three straight hours! Not only did I learn an amazing amount about ingredients, portion size and the best way to cook rice (I had been doing it all wrong!), but I also had the opportunity to taste the most subtle and exotic flavors. My favorite was a red pepper and tomato soup with cheese and avocado!

Everyone in attendance left with a wonderful bag of fresh ingredients donated by our supplier, Midwest Foods, a Women and Minority Business Enterprise.

For me, this was another example of how our Sodexo teams, and especially Chef Sterling, share valuable skills, knowledge and expertise with the communities we live and work in.  I am not sure who gained more from the experience – the students, the mothers or me!

Dr. Rohini Anand is the senior vice president and global chief diversity officer at Sodexo.

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