A healthier taste of life

COSTA MESA — Rea Elementary School parents dug into a fiesta Thursday morning filled with healthier alternatives to traditional party fare.

They feasted on Spanish-style quinoa, spaghetti squash, veggie quesadillas with fat-free cheese and whole-grain tortillas, peach cobbler with rolled oats and low on sugar, and mini-pita pockets filled with avocado, tomato, corn, tofu and black beans.

The low-cost meal was the last supper of sorts for 35 parents who made it through a five-week nutrition program at the school that challenged them to rethink the foods they put into their bodies and feed their families.

"I think each of you are making a big change in your life — it is what we [call] 'a pivotal point,'" district nutritionist Pam Williams said at the program's bilingual graduation ceremony. "We've given you all the tools you need to go out and do wonderful things for your family and your community."

The free program, called the Nutrition Institute, was sponsored by the Network for a Healthy California and offered to parents in low-income areas, where obesity rates are higher and health resources aren't as readily available, said Williams, a registered dietician.

The program is also wrapping up at Pomona Elementary School and starting up at Wilson Elementary School, she said.

During the program, parents met once a week to learn how to read food labels, evaluate menus for healthier choices, build their own menus and grocery lists, and learn simple, family-friendly exercises, Williams said.

Parents also made goals once a week, discussed how they implemented it and talked through any issues, she said.

Through the program, parents like Martha Sandoval said they were inspired to make lifestyle changes.

"I wanted to get more information and make a change in my life and we have," Sandoval said.

Sandoval, who has a 5-year-old son at College Park Elementary School, said she cut down on the amount of salt and oil in her cooking, incorporated more fruits and vegetables to meals, and swapped juices and soda for water.

The Costa Mesa resident also incorporated 20 minutes of exercise into her daily routine and at least that amount for her son.

She said she feels more energetic and healthy.

Although the parents have the tools and information, changes aren't going to happen in just a few days, said Geoffry Ianniello, the operations manager for the Network for a Healthy California.

"This is going to be a life-long journey," he told the graduates.

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