The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the eating habits of many families. It’s also changed how many community-based organizations are helping residents with food access and education in healthy eating.

Over the last year, Martha O’Bryan Center in Nashville has pivoted its health and wellness programming to a virtual model. 

The organization has been providing boxes of cooking supplies and fresh groceries to cooking club participants. During monthly cooking club sessions, held over Zoom, they facilitate icebreakers, share Healthy for Life Educational Experience videos, and lead everyone through a hands-on cooking demonstration. Learn more in our interview below. 

Healthy For Life® , an online portal from the American Heart Association, developed in partnership with Aramark, makes it easy for community-based organizations to offer health and wellness programming. This full suite of resources, including a complete curriculum, facilitator guides, videos, icebreakers, and more, comes ready to share. 

Q&A with Martha O’Bryan Center 

We connected with Nancy Becerra, family coach and parenting specialist, and Elaine Jansen, family support specialist at Martha O’Bryan Center, to learn more about how they’ve adapted over the last year and their program’s successes. 

What is your community’s favorite Healthy for Life Educational Experience and/or recipe and why? 

Our community member’s favorite recipe is the baked spaghetti squash. They enjoyed learning about this new food and its nutritional benefits.  It was an adventure for them preparing it and then having the experience to taste it. They were pleasantly surprised.  

Our family fun night events include the community members cooking with their kids. The kids loved the fruit kabobs and enjoyed being able to make participant in making this recipe. 

Get recipes for spaghetti squash  and fruit kabobs  through the American Heart Association. 

What is something you have done over the last year to ensure your community members have access to fresh food/groceries? 

Our team provides each community member with the products needed for each recipe. We make sure to purchase the groceries a few days before the virtual class to ensure the members have the freshest ingredients available. Raffles for gift cards for grocery stores are made available. Community members have also been informed that they are able to use their EBT cards at local farmer’s markets.  

What is one thing you have learned regarding offering virtual programming to the community? 

Our community members have different knowledge and experience with technology, and they vary with the tools they have available.

Virtual programming needs to be very engaging. The community members prepare their recipe along with us on Zoom. We make it an interactive experience while we are educating, sharing experiences and joking. We also include icebreakers and the Healthy for Life videos.  

If you could do it all over again, what’s one thing you would do differently when implementing a virtual/remote program? 

Hosting virtual cooking club sessions was much different than the in-person settings we were accustomed to hosting. It quickly became evident that there were many things necessary to successfully host a virtual meeting including having a quiet designated space with proper lighting. We also found that registering participants was tricky when we were seeing community members less frequently and in virtual settings. If we could do it all over again, we would get participant input on the best way to register participants (one session at a time versus registering for several sessions in advance). 

Do you think you will continue with any of the changes you made once people are able to gather again and why?  

We created a Facebook page, where community members can post pictures of their finished product or comment on recipes and share their experiences. We would definitely love to continue to use social media to reach out to the community. 

We are eager to gather again as a group; however, we understand if members are not comfortable gathering, we would like to offer livestream during our cooking club in order to accommodate the community members. Family fun nights have been a huge success with parents cooking with their children. This is definitely a keeper!

Access Healthy for Life Resources

Visit Healthy for Life® portal  to get started. Complete the facilitator orientation, access the welcome toolkit and curriculum, and join the online community.

Looking for guidance on how to start a Healthy for Life program in your community? Register now for the webinar Healthy for Life – Steps for Success , to be held June 17 at 1 p.m. CT. It will provide information on your role as facilitator and resources available.