The National Latino Children’s Institute (NLCI), founded in 1997, “works with a diverse network of more than 200 regional and local community based organizations in developing and implementing community action initiatives to support Latino children across the United States and Puerto Rico.” In 2002, co-founders Josephine Garza and Bibi Lobo created a curriculum called Salsa, Sabor, y Salud to “improve awareness of habits leading to better nutrition and increased physical activity for Latino families with children 12 and younger.”
Food Tank (FT): Can you give some background information about NLCI and Salsa, Sabor y Salud?
Josephine Garza (JG): Our ultimate purpose at NLCI is to make sure issues that young Latinos face are being brought to the table. We want our young people to have the tools to succeed. NLCI works with community based organizations to provide education. We engage and connect with our partners to campaign for young Latinos.
Bibi Lobo (BL): Salsa, Sabor y Salud came about in 2002 when we had a meeting with Kraft foods about obesity issues within the Latino community. Originally, the thought was to have a one day class, but we realized that, in order for change to really happen, it needed to be longer. That’s how we came to the current length of eight weeks.
FT: How was the curriculum developed (i.e. who put it together, how were decisions made about what to include, what was the thought process behind the activities/lessons)?
BL: Josie and I wrote the entire curriculum. We consulted with dieticians, doctors, nurses, YMCA’s and other community-based organizations. We held focus groups throughout the country and asked adults what kept them from eating healthy and why previous nutrition courses had not worked. Our focus groups told us that previous programs had been critical about the types of food parents were feeding their children and the way they were cooking. No one wants to hear that! We made a conscious effort to never tell someone not to eat a certain type of food. Instead, we want to focus on moderation and eating from all the food groups, every day.
JG: We wanted the program to be fun, include the entire family and be bilingual. We made the decision to not use the word exercise because it brings to mind something that you can’t do with your family. Instead, we say physical activity because we want our program to be inclusive, so that no matter what the person’s age or skill level, they can participate.
FT: Given that Salsa, Sabor y Salud is geared towards Latino families, can you explain some unique challenges facing this community and how this curriculum helps address it?
BL: Latinos have the largest percentage of families that are food insecure and they are not accessing food assistance programs. A high percentage of Latinos live in urban areas which can mean less green space, higher crime and fewer options for good food.
JG: Also, previous programs tend to focus on the “right” foods and completely changing how a person cooks, but this doesn’t always translate into the real world. When we spoke to parents at our focus groups, we saw how many challenges they faced to keep their family healthy.
I remember one mother who woke up every morning at five o’clock, dropped each of her children off at school and went to work. She picked up the kids in the afternoon to take them to daycare so she could get to her second job. She bought her children a hot dog and fries for US$1.25 each night for dinner. You can’t tell that mother that what she is doing is wrong. She is doing the best she can for her children. What you can do, is teach her to use what she already has and make it healthier.
FT: Can you give a few examples of methods the curriculum uses to increase daily nutrition intake?
BL: We really advocate eating from every food group every day and to keep portion size in mind. We also teach our families how to avoid empty calories.
JG: We show families how to make very nutritious food out of what they already have. For instance, rice and beans, a staple for many of our families, is already very healthy! We also show them how to flavor foods with herbs and spices rather than oil or salt.
FT: How do you measure success with this program? Can you give us an example of a success stories?
JG: I remember one story from when we were doing the program in Los Angeles. A mom, who had been attending Salsa, Sabor y Salud, was with her son and they were running late, so she decided to get dinner from a fast food restaurant. From the backseat, her son yelled out, “Mom! We already ate here this week! This is sometimes food, not everyday food!”