Seniors learn healthy COOKING

San Jacinto Community Center hosts series of six classes

Photos by Dennis Fletcher
Chef Dion.

■ Dennis Fletcher / Contributed

I managed to slip into the last of six “Healthy Cooking Classes with Chef Dion” that have been taking place from March to May at the San Jacinto Community Center. It didn’t take the class of 12 to notice there was a new guy in the room, but they accepted me the way most seniors do in a classroom setting.
Chef Dion has been a Chef for 26 years and is a certified health coach. She brings a level of confidence and familiarity to the class that had the seniors who made it through all six cooking and food preparation sessions communing comfortably with each other. “I get to help people overcome health obstacles with the power of whole foods,” Chef Dion declares.
The course took the seniors through a series of six different recipes, ending with a delicious spinach salad that was to die for. Throughout the course, participants learned how to prepare meals for diabetics and others with food limitations. All six meals that were taught use whole-food ingredients, are under 400 calories a serving, cost under $10 to prepare, and can provide at least two meals.
The last class was supposed to focus on the spinach salad but the instructor managed to cram in as many reminders and new facts about healthy eating as possible, cautioning attendees that deceptive practices in the food industry require that food buyers educate themselves to buy only the very best raw ingredients for themselves and their families. She urged at least one meatless day a week, substituting tuna, black bean and corn pita pockets or other choices noting that the average senior is on at least eight medications.
She reminded the class of her five tips for healthy eating:
1. Know the sources of where your food is coming from and how it’s processed. Check out the documentary “What The Health?” as a reference.

Strawberry spinach salad with blueberries, walnuts and feta cheese.

2. Educate yourself on eating organic foods and remember the “Clean Fifteen “ when shopping for produce. These are the fruits and vegetables safe to eat that are non-organic with low pesticides. Only shop at grocery stores with the highest “grading” when it comes to quality. They’re graded too, like the restaurant industry!
3. Don’t eat anything processed or any microwaveable food. Know what’s in your food! If it has more than five ingredients that are not natural or you can’t pronounce them, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. Learn how to identify what’s in your food. Non-GMO and organic food products are best, but you can use smartphone apps like Non-GMO Project Shopping Guide and Now Find Organic & NON-GMO to help with this.
4. Cook and plan meals ahead of time at home to ensure you’re in control of the quality of what you’re consuming . Take healthy snacks as alternatives to fast food. This ensures control over eating the proper foods. Trying a healthy meal service is a good idea if time is a factor. Examples are for produce and
5. Remember to eat final meals as early as possible to maintain your weight. Regular exercise and sleep are your best medicines for maintaining optimum Health!
To know if a food item is truly organic, look for a “9” that appears at the beginning of the barcode.
If you shop regularly at an open farmers market, ask each vendor where they source their food products. Then check these sources out online using reviews from Yelp and others to evaluate them. The Better Business Bureau will also report any complaints filed against food sellers as part of their service.
You can substitute zucchini for more expensive asparagus in chicken dishes to cut costs without sacrificing nutrition.
Check around town to locate the best places to get great deals on fresh vegetables. The Grocery Outlet on San Jacinto Avenue was singled out by several in the class. The 99 Cent stores in our valley usually take their deliveries of fresh vegetables on a particular day of the week. You can ask the store manager for this day.
“Remember,” Chef Dion enthusiastically urges the seniors in her classes, “it’s all about diet and exercise. Eat healthy and be happy. Meditate. Go for a walk. Drink green tea.” Check out Consider a colonic to irrigate your bowel. Chef Dion didn’t mince words with the class, telling us, “You should be having a normal bowel movement at least 30 minutes after eating, if you are eating right.”
Use your cell phone as a health tool, storing the following information under “ICE” (in case of emergency) which all EMTs and first responders are trained to look for: name, blood type, emergency contacts, health insurance, doctors, medications with dosage and frequency. Seniors can get less expensive cell phones through AARP and by asking their cell carrier if they have refurbished phones.

Chef Dion and her final cooking class.

Some good smartphone apps for seniors that can support their health: My Sugar, Now Find, AskMD, and Share Care, where you can enter your symptoms and it offers a diagnosis. Also helpful is MyID, which stores your medical information so first responders can access it instantly.
With the sharing of healthy cooking tips concluded, the part everyone had come for was about to begin: preparation of the food! For this final class, participants prepared a healthy spinach salad with the following ingredients: raw spinach (washed carefully of course), strawberries cut into chunks, blueberries, walnut halves (can substitute whole or sliced almonds), and crumbled feta cheese. The dressing, lightly applied, was Paul Newman’s Light Balsamic Vinaigrette (see: www.
As with earlier sessions, the class made the dish twice. First, to eat and enjoy. Then again, to wrap and take home to enjoy later.
Some members of the class will be meeting at the San Jacinto Community Center for lunch on the first Wednesday of the month. The Center is located at 625 S. Pico Ave., San Jacinto, CA, 951-654-7212. Meals are served Monday – Friday to seniors 60 and over for a suggested donation of $3.
The next Healthy Cooking Class is scheduled for August 28 at the offices of the course sponsor, Family Services Association, 21250 Box Springs Rd., Moreno Valley CA 92557, phone (951-300-0456. There is no fee.
Chef Dion can be found at and on her Instagram and Facebook pages of the same name.

Dennis Fletcher, a resident of San Jacinto, is a writer, author, and cooking enthusiast. He can be reached at

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