Helping seniors live life to fullest is Mercy Endeavors’ goal
Sixteen Mercy Endeavors seniors got their hands dirty Dec. 2, learning to cook healthy, nutritious meals at Tulane Medical Center’s Goldring Center of Culinary Medicine on North Broad Street.
“All were hands-on dressed in aprons,” said Rebecca Stahr, director of development for the nonprofit Mercy Endeavors, which offers recreational and educational activities, nutrition programs, lunch, advocacy and case management to seniors in the Garden District-Irish Channel area. “They went full-speed in the kitchen.”
For two hours, teams of two worked at eight cooking stations with Tulane Culinary Medicine staff members nearby. They watched a video on kitchen safety and hygiene, and received preparation tips on having ingredients, cooking utensils and equipment ready before cooking begins.
“At the Goldring Center, we teach people how to make the food they are already making but making it more nutritional by cutting down on meats and bulking up with vegetables and legumes to add more fiber,” said Kerri Dotson, RDN, LDN, culinary medicine educator and lead educator chef at the Goldring Center. “It cuts down on calories as well.”
Each team had simple yet nutritious recipe choices that could be easily prepared, such as a spinach and feta frittata, Creole “scramblet” with vegetables, a peanut butter banana and also a strawberry smoothie, Greek yogurt with fruit sauce, oatmeal with walnuts and raisins and breakfast bread pudding.
“We did smoothies in blenders and used hand choppers, which was good for seniors some who have arthritis,” Dotson said. “We made lots of things that were one or two servings or larger servings that could freeze well, all with nutrition in mind, limiting sugar and adding fiber. We used a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”
Dotson said the seniors had fun while learning new skills they could apply at home.
“They did everything in the kitchen – they chopped, cooked, prepared and cleaned,” Stahr said, adding how all Mercy Endeavors members will have this training at least once. “It was such a wonderful experience.”
Since the kitchen accommodates a maximum of 24 adults at a time, other Mercy Endeavors members will get their chance to cook on Jan. 11 and Feb. 3. Members also took a survey about their eating habits that will be used in an analysis to determine, in coming months, if this extra training in the kitchen is encouraging more healthy eating habits.
Jazzin’ with Juice
This collaboration with Tulane is part of a new program introduced recently at Mercy Endeavors called “Jazzin’ with Juice.”
“We wanted to train the members about new, healthy food options they may not be familiar with,” Stahr said. “There are many options that they are able to achieve with a blender or juicer, such as dips, sauces, cookie batters and soup.”
Stahr said the collaboration with Tulane arose when she learned how Tulane was educating future doctors about nutrition from a cooking standpoint to impact health. This training gives doctors another resource, beyond prescribing drugs, to help patients get better. She thought, “Why not teach program participants the same healthy mindset?”
The expected outcome for the seniors is a new way of considering food choices, preparation and better monitoring of their health – a lifestyle change that, hopefully, will result in weight loss, better circulation and nutrition and more energy. The idea is that these seniors will share what they’ve learned with family and friends, Stahr said. Future plans include seniors’ mentoring school children.
Other aspects of Jazzin’ with Juice include Mercy Endeavors working with Ochsner Congregational Wellness to conduct food demonstrations as well as a continued partnership with the LSU AgCenter adapting its food demonstrations to include heart-healthy, low-cholesterol, low-sodium cuisine.
Mercy Endeavors currently serves 200 members but anticipates that number to grow once it opens its new center – twice the current size – now under construction nearby. Statistics show that thousands in the Garden District/Irish Channel area are in need of Mercy Endeavors’ daily services, Stahr said. Opportunities for regular cooking classes will be available at the new center.
“We will have a beautiful commercial kitchen when new center opens in early June,” Stahr said. “The building will be a step in the right direction. Hopefully we can continue growing in the community.”
Mercy Endeavors Senior Center is located at 1017 St. Andrew St., New Orleans. Call 568-0607 or visit mercyendeavors.com.