Inside a Food Bank Just Say Yes Lesson

April 03, 2024  |  by Maggie Prendergast   |  

Food Bank For New York City recognizes that healthy eating isn't always easy in our city. To address this challenge, Food Bank offers Just Say Yes (JSY), a community nutrition education program designed to help busy New Yorkers incorporate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into their diets and feel more empowered to cook at home. As part of a comprehensive approach to addressing the health needs of New Yorkers, JSY serves all five boroughs through a robust program. 

IMG_5484Just Say Yes educators conduct nutrition education lessons across all five boroughs. 

The JSY team consists of two dedicated educators who travel throughout the city, hosting free nutrition education workshops in community centers, food pantries, and churches. The program partners with NYC Health and is funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), ensuring its accessibility to a wide range of New Yorkers.  

IMG_5477Materials attendees receive to further their understanding of nutrition and healthy eating.

JSY's model focuses on teaching the "hows" of healthy eating while encouraging a deeper understanding of the "whys." It aims to reach New Yorkers who may not have otherwise had access to nutrition and culinary instruction. Let's take a closer look at a typical JSY workshop recently hosted by Michael, one of Food Bank's Community Nutritionists, at Metro World Child in Bushwick, Brooklyn... 

IMG_5476 2Michael began his instruction with a discussion.

In a lively community center in a well-equipped dining room, Michael began his lesson by engaging the group in a discussion about their favorite produce. "I cook garlic with EVERYTHING," exclaimed Wendy, a participant. "I literally use it every day." Building on this enthusiasm, Michael explained how different colors of fruits and vegetables often contain different essential vitamins. He delved into the concept of phytochemicals, breaking down the word into "plant" and "nutrients," which is how nutritionists analyze health benefits. Michael also took care to extol the benefits of Wendy's favorite vegetable, noting that garlic is high in oxalates, which with the right amount of calcium, can lower risk for kidney stones.

The hands-on portion of the workshop featured a chickpea salad recipe demonstration. Michael described the dish as a "colorful recipe," reinforcing the message of "eating the rainbow" for various health benefits. The ingredients were carefully selected to be affordable, with the salad costing roughly $1 per serving, making it accessible to very tight budgets. As he prepared the salad, Michael offered tips on technique, such as efficiently cutting an onion to minimize liquid release (which causes watery eyes). One participant even filmed the demonstration to try at home. 

IMG_5478A participant filmed Michael's onion cutting technique for at home use.

IMG_5482Cutting onions in this way minimizes the release of liquids which can cause watery eyes. 

The workshop concluded with a tasting of the chickpea salad and a discussion of participants' thoughts and feedback. It was clear that attendees' voices were valued and their input was welcome. 

 Wendy, an attendee, even spoke fondly of her children's experience with Food Bank's CookShop program during their public school education, a testament to Food Bank’s reach across age groups and communities in New York City. 

IMG_5485A batch of chickpea salad demonstrated in the lesson.  IMG_5486A serving of this chickpea salad costs roughly $1, making it a great choice for New Yorkers on a tight food budget.

Through programs like Just Say Yes, Food Bank For New York City is empowering New Yorkers to make healthier choices and fostering a deeper understanding of nutrition. By providing accessible, engaging, and hands-on education, Food Bank is helping to create a healthier, and more informed city, one workshop at a time. 

Food Bank's Just Say Yes Nutrition Education lessons are conducted year-round all over New York City. For more information on how you can support or learn more about Just Say Yes, click here.

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