March is National Nutrition Month, and what better way to kick it off than with the Nutrition Class at the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center.
Nutritionist Lynn McCullough leads a class of 12 to 20 members on nutrition and healthy eating as part of the SNAP program’s education fund. Lynn is the Adult Nutrition Education Coordinator with the Agatston Urban Nutrition Institute of the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
Lynn’s overall message is eat smart and be active. She emphasizes taking control of your diet, and a good place to start is by reading the nutrition labels, especially to reduce sugar, fat and salt.
Beyond Eating Healthy
Lynn doesn’t just talk about ways to eat a healthy diet. She also covers things like meal planning, eating healthy on a budget, shopping tips, cooking, food safety and physical activity.
For each session, she brings food and a recipe to prepare during class. Participants get to try the food and receive a copy of the recipe so that they can make it at home.
“We often talk about saving money. One of the things I emphasize is figuring out how to use what’s in your refrigerator or around the kitchen so that it doesn’t go to waste,” Lynn shares. “Today we threw leftover spinach in our smoothies.”
“I also suggest putting in the freezer fresh fruit, especially anything that’s about to expire or get overly ripe, then use it later in a smoothie. It’s much cheaper than buying frozen fruit in the store.”
Physical activity is so important that Lynn will often incorporate movement during class. “We will take a break and walk around, stretch, or do chair yoga,” she explains.
Another essential component is planning ahead. Lynn suggests making sure that healthy snacks are always on hand and readily available.
“Don’t reach for the snacks with empty calories,” she warns. “And if you don’t have much of an appetite, try eating lots of smaller, healthy foods throughout the day to get in the calories you need.”
Lynn discloses that the number one question people ask is about supplements. “I always tell people that good, balanced meals and snacks will give them all the nutrients they need, and will cost a lot less money. Limit supplements to when a healthcare provider recommends them for you.”
As food comes from nature, she emphasizes that gardening is another way to get fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Digging in the soil and nurturing plants is also therapeutic. Knowing that not everyone has the space for gardening, she points out that even a pot of your favorite herb can help add flavor.
Members Love the Class and its Benefits
Participants appreciate how Lynn breaks everything down and provides recipes. For them, her instructions on ways to cook food so that it’s healthier takes the class to a whole different level.
Using what they learn, they’re eating much healthier. One way is they use apples in place of sugar when cooking. They’re also avoiding prepackaged, processed food, and shared that they now find those foods too salty and no longer tasty.
During class, members enjoy sharing their “hacks” with one another, like:
- Use fruit in pancake batter to sweeten it and eliminate the need for syrup.
- Make nice cream (made with frozen bananas, nuts, and a little milk) as a delicious substitute for ice cream.
- Keep a notebook of all the recipes from class and share with family and friends.
Nutrition and the Next Generation
Cooking and eating together are time honored traditions, so why not pass along ways of eating healthier. Lynn encourages the class to share what they learn with younger generations, especially children and grandchildren.
The Agatston Urban Nutrition Institute also brings the nutrition program to local schools in West Philadelphia. In the past, Lynn has brought students from those schools into the class at the Center. She hopes to do more of that in the future.
The Nutrition Class meets Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 10:00.
Grape Banana Smoothie Recipe
Makes 3 servings
- 1 cup frozen grapes
- 2 medium bananas
- ½ cup grape juice
- 1 cup vanilla yogurt, low-fat or non-fat
- Combine all the ingredients in a blender.
- Blend on high until smooth.
- Serve and enjoy cold.
- Store any leftover smoothie in the refrigerator.
Experiment with other fruits. You can also add vegetables like spinach, kale and carrots.