WIC Workers Get A “Sneaky” Idea

CitySeed PhotoAnika Johnson got an idea: She can “sneak” some extra nutrition into meals by mixing a new cookbook in with the food vouchers she hands out.

Johnson picked up the idea Wednesday morning when she and five others health center employees gathered for a workshop featuring “New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven”—a bilingual, community created cookbook featuring simple, healthy recipes and strategies from not-for-profits and individuals across the city.

One of those strategies calls for “sneaky greens,” an add-on to dishes like traditional Puerto Rican rice and beans.

The strategy: add finely chopped veggies like kale and spinach to meals from beans to burgers for picky eaters.

“That’s something our families will really be able to use,” said Johnson, site nutrition manager at the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) on Columbus Avenue.

“And these ideas for getting kids involved in cooking—that’s great too,” she said.

“New Haven Cooks,” created by New Haven chef Tagan Engel and the organization City Seed with a grant from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, was printed in 2010. It features both English and Spanish translations. Of 7,000 printed copies, 5,000 are meant for free distribution to the community.

“We had the community help make this book,” Engel said, “and now we’re trying to get it back out to the community.”

CitySeed delivered 400 copies to each of the four WIC sites in New Haven in March. Now Engel, who chairs the New Haven Food Policy Council, is out promoting her labor of love.

“If we just dropped the books off, that wouldn’t be much use,” she said. “I wanted to come out to each of the WIC offices and talk through them with the employees, so they can put it into context for their own clients.”

The book—apart from its recipes featuring fresh veggies and healthy, inexpensive meals—includes tips for planning meals, improving the nutritional value of packaged foods, getting kids involved in cooking and finding fresh produce in New Haven.

Uma Ramiah PhotoSo there Engel was Wednesday morning, talking through recipes submitted by people from Alderwoman Dolores Colon (Rice and Beans with Sneaky Greens, p. 46) to the 12-year old Rosabella Ziou (Hot Potato Sandwiches, p. 52).

“There are things you can do to hide vegetables in food,” Engel explained, walking the WIC employees through the book. “You can chop up kale or spinach and mix it in with the dry black beans,” she said.

Kids won’t even know it’s there, she said.

Engel also has her own stealthy veggie recipe in there: Burgers with Sneaky Greens.

“Now that we’ve got the books, we’re going to figure out the best way to give them out,” Johnson said after the workshop. She said she and the other nutritionists will put their heads together and come up with a strategy to get their clients interested in the recipes and resources.

The book fits in well with the mission of WIC: the program provides nutritional education classes, food vouchers (for grains, proteins, low fat milk, eggs and juice, for example) and other support for low-income mothers and children, she explained.

“These are really nice books, they could be a great additional resource for these families, but we don’t want to just hand them out,” she said.

“We want to make sure people use them.”

“New Haven Cooks” can be purchased online through CitySeed.

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