The demonstration kitchen at the CHC Wellness Center reminds me of the set of a cooking show. There’s lots of gleaming stainless steel and a seemingly endless supply of prep bowls. My first task is grating reduced fat cheddar cheese, brick after brick. Nutrition staff Carolyn Nichols and Jimmy Hoxie will do their healthy cooking demonstration four times today, at 9:00, 10:30, 4:00, and 5:30, so they need lots of ingredients prepared ahead of time. All of the healthy recipes demonstrated in the kitchen are developed by the staff here at CHC, and designed to show participants healthier ways to prepare old favorites and new ingredients to introduce into their diets.
For some of the participants, healthy diets are a matter of life and death. It is estimated that 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. result from preventable diseases, often referred to as “lifestyle diseases”. This number increases drastically among low income individuals, particularly between the ages of 45 and 64. Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, liver diseases, and some forms of cancer are largely preventable or manageable with a healthy lifestyle. Carolyn and the rest of the nutrition staff are an important resource for the clients hoping to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the cooking classes, the wellness staff consults with patients recommended by the medical staff, giving them personalized advice about how diet and exercise can affect their health.
Today’s class is all about ways to maintain health goals during the holidays. Carolyn stirs the cheese I grated into a béchamel made with skim milk, preparing the sauce for a healthy broccoli casserole. The traditional thanksgiving staple has more than 300 calories per serving, but Carolyn’s slimmed down version clocks in at a mere 120. She’s also done a recipe makeover on traditional southern squash casserole using light sour cream, reducing the cheese quantity, and subbing in whole wheat crackers. While the casseroles bake, the participants go over a handout featuring tips about staying healthy during the holidays, and the lively discussion keeps the onlookers engaged until it’s finally time to taste Carolyn’s efforts. I can verify that the slimmed down casseroles are delicious!
The Church Health Center is dedicated to providing healthcare for low income working families in Memphis, a population that is woefully uncared for medically. Because of this lack of healthcare, more than 13,000 patients in Shelby County are admitted to area hospitals with symptoms and conditions that could be prevented by healthy lifestyle choices. The staff at the Wellness Center knows this statistic well, and are helping to educate and encourage the behavior change in those who seek their help. This issue is particularly important to me because for years I worked processing disability claims for an attorney, and I saw firsthand the significant damage that an unhealthy lifestyle and irregular medical care can cause. We can all learn to take a little better care of ourselves. I’d recommend starting with Carolyn’s Broccoli Casserole!
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