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Cooking Demonstration Attracts a Crowd at Downtown Campus

The summer squash salad with herbs was met with approval during a recent tasting in the lobby of Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus, with some people returning for a second serving.

“This is really good,” one woman commented. “I don’t think I’ve ever had this kind of squash before.”

And that, according to Chef Chris Dibiase, nutrition services manager at Penn State Health St. Joseph, is just the point of the Downtown program.

“We want to introduce people to vegetables that they may not be familiar with, Dibiase said. “The point is to encourage people to seek out and eat these healthy foods.”

The cooking demonstration and tasting program, held on the fourth Tuesday of every month from 1 to 2 p.m., was started in June as an outreach to city residents, explained Lisa Weaver, Healthy Community Program associate for Penn State Health St. Joseph. The hospital also offers a farm market each Tuesday from noon until 4 p.m. at its Downtown Campus.

“That way, people who taste whatever we’re offering on a particular Tuesday can just walk a few feet and purchase the vegetables they just ate,” Weaver said. “The goal is to get them to use these healthy foods when they cook at home.”

The market, located in a room just off of the lobby, is offered in partnership with the organic farm at Blue Mountain Academy in Tilden Township. It is open to anyone, with cash, checks, credit and debit cards and SNAP accepted for payment.

Patients who are part of St. Joseph’s Veggie Rx initiative, an innovative program that offers vouchers that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables to patients suffering from conditions such as diabetes or obesity, also can use their vouchers at the farm market.

“We want to provide better access to fruits and vegetables for people who could benefit from them,” said Nicole Rhoads, a registered dietician with Penn State Health St. Joseph.

The Veggie Rx program is designed to expand patient knowledge of nutrition while increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, Rhoads explained. Vouchers also can be redeemed for produce at the Penn Street Market.

Offering portions of healthy foods to people who are coming and going at the Downtown Campus works toward both of those goals.

“People who try these healthy foods not only get the nutritional information about them, they also get to experience how delicious they are,” Weaver said.

In addition to the herbed squash salad offered at the Downtown Campus tastings, Chef Dibiase has served up a kale salad with chicken, a jicama slaw and an edamame salad. All of them were well received, particularly the kale salad.

“Some people were a little hesitant at first because they didn’t know what it was – they’d never eaten kale before,” Dibiase said. “But, once they tried it, they loved it.”

The next tasting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Summer Squash Salad with Herbs

  • 2 pounds zucchini and yellow squash (about 2 of each), halved lengthwise and sliced ½-inch thick
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup distilled white vinegar
  • ¼ cup water, room temperature
  • ¼ cup olive oil

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients until combined. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Serve cold.

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