A cabbage-fruit salad and “rainbow of vegetables” stir-fry were the two recipes about 25 seniors recently learned to prepare as part of a senior nutrition program presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Gonzaba Medical Group.

Two women in aprons addressing seniors at a table
Angie Gutierez, left, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service family and community health agent, Bexar County, speaks to a group of seniors at the recent nutrition program held at the Gonzaba Event Center in San Antonio. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“These community nutrition programs are very important, especially for seniors,” said Nelda Leyba Speller, AgriLife Extension county director, Bexar County. “March is National Nutrition Month, so it was a good time to have this program and show our seniors there are easy-to-prepare, nutritious foods they can make at home.”

Speller also noted as people age, they become more susceptible to illness and may develop chronic health problems.

“Good nutrition is one way to help prevent those things from happening,” she said.

Speller said AgriLife Extension’s Dinner Tonight program has hundreds of additional recipes for nutritious meals that can be prepared at home.      

She said staff members from AgriLife Extension helping with the program included county agents, nutrition educators and members of the Better Living for Texans program along with Master Wellness Volunteer Program participants.  

“AgriLife Extension provides nutrition education to people of all ages and particularly strives to implement nutrition and wellness programming in underserved communities,” she said.        

Attendees were given one hot and one cold nutritious recipe that could be made easily and inexpensively at home.

“The program not only included the recipes and hands-on preparation and cooking, it also included important nutrition and food safety advice and information,” said Angie Gutierrez, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent, Bexar County.

Gutierrez said while practicing food safety is important for everyone, it is more important for seniors as they are at a higher risk for foodborne illness.   

“We learned about AgriLife Extension from a salsa-making event they held and from their participation in community health fairs,” said Ana Soto, communications relations manager for the Gonzaba Medical Group. “We contacted them and asked them to co-present this senior nutrition program.”

Soto said it was especially important to bring nutrition programming to seniors.

“Many of the people attending this senior nutrition program are our patients because we’re very interested in nutrition as a means of disease prevention,” Soto said. “Getting seniors to eat better and stay healthy is one of our goals.”

A woman chopping green and yellow bell peppers
Esperanza Casas prepares bell peppers for the nutritious “rainbow of vegetables” stir-fry recipe she and others learned to make at the program. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Esperanza Casas was one of the senior nutrition program attendees.

“I have diabetes and high blood pressure and have had colon cancer,” said Casas, who prepared cabbage for the cabbage-fruit salad recipe for her group. “Programs like these have shown me the advantage of eating more salads and adding more fruits and vegetables to my diet. I also swim and walk to get my exercise.”

Gretchen Elkins, a second-year Master Wellness Volunteer Program participant, assisted at the program.

Master Wellness Volunteers support AgriLife Extension outreach and education related to health, nutrition, food safety and family wellbeing in the communities where they live and work.

“I have a passion for teaching people about food and nutrition, and it’s especially important for seniors to maintain good nutrition and proper eating habits,” Elkins said. “I also work with adult daycare centers, and this sort of programming is not only helpful to seniors’ physical health but also their emotional health since they can visit and interact with one another while learning.”

Elkins, a project manager for child nutrition at Education Service Center, Region 20, in San Antonio, said she also participates in child nutrition activities through AgriLife Extension’s Learn, Grow, Eat and Go, or LGEG, program.

LGEG gets young people involved in growing and harvesting their own vegetables, using the harvest to make nutritious meals, and keeping healthy with regular exercise. 

“I develop training for the state’s child nutrition program, and the LGEG curriculum is aligned with our educational goals,” Elkins said.

Grace Martinez, another program attendee, said she appreciated that the recipes attendees were given were easy to prepare and could be modified to taste.

“For the vegetable stir-fry, you can substitute different vegetables and add spices for additional flavoring,” she said. “And you can also swap out some of the ingredients in the cabbage-fruit salad. The important thing is you eat more fruits and vegetables.”

Martinez, who participates in exercise classes and is part of a dance group, also noted the importance of getting regular exercise. 

“At our age, it’s important to keep moving and stay active,” she said.

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