Share a meal and learn together in Portland’s low-income neighborhoods

OSU Extension county offices tailor nutrition education to meet local needs. (Photo by Bob Rost)
OSU Extension county offices tailor nutrition education to meet local needs. (Photo by Bob Rost)

Lynn Steele is a pillar in her community. For more than 15 years, she has led nutrition classes in the Oregon State University Extension Service Metro Hispanic Nutrition Office. She demonstrates healthy cooking in a kitchen-classroom bustling with the chatter of parents and children. Food is the center of celebration in Latin American family traditions, Steele said, but Latina women watch warily as young people get hooked on high-sugar and high-carbohydrate diets.

Steele develops recipes that retain the traditional diets of Mexico and South America, but improve them to include vitamins, minerals and calcium. Her recipes, written in English and Spanish with easy-to-follow pictorial directions, combine familiar flavors with nutritious ingredients for low-cost make-at-home meals.

The nutrition education classes center on the participants, who often bring their youngest children with them. Babies and toddlers bounce from lap to lap as their parents sit relaxed around a table. “Everyone participates and we all learn from each other,” Steele said. “Relationships are important in an atmosphere of change.”

The conversations, all in Spanish, start with food and nutrition but soon grow to discussing other learning opportunities for this low-income community.

“In many cases, this means helping families work through domestic problems before they are able to learn nutrition" Steele said. “Besides teaching them how to cook nutritious meals, I encourage women to be the best they can be. They get that, and you can’t fake it. I try to be a role model and friend in the community.”

View audio-slideshow in English or Spanish.

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