The Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) at CSU, Chico is well known for its dedication to good nutrition, food security, and physical activity.
As a longstanding community-based, nonprofit health program, the organization also has plenty of experience just making ends meet.
So it should come as no surprise that Fresh Pick, the CHC’s newest program, is a “two-fer,” a health-promoting, family-friendly fresh meal service for the general public that also generates administrative funding for the Senior Meals program in Butte County as well as regional Harvest of the Month and other CHC farm-to-school children’s nutrition education programs.
“We’ve had this idea for some time now,” says Kristin Gruneisen, program supervisor at the CHC. “What could we do to generate more support for Senior Meals and also for our kids’ programs? We asked around. At least part of the answer seemed to be doing more of what we already do well.”
Doing healthy food and doing it well
One thing the CHC does particularly well, with nine registered dietitians on staff, is prepare health-giving food.
Every weekday, for example, the CHC prepares fresh, nutritionally optimal midday meals for older adults throughout Butte County, a service provided in conjunction with Passages and partially supported by federal Area Agency on Aging dollars. Passages provides senior meals in surrounding counties too, but CHC Senior Meals are uniquely prepared “from scratch” by CHC staff using the freshest available ingredients. Low- or no-cost freshly prepared meals are served to seniors by CHC staff and interns at sit-down group meal sites in Chico, Oroville, and Paradise; delivery of frozen meals is available for older adults who are homebound.
And through its multicounty Farm to School programs, the CHC introduces children to fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts—produce grown and purchased locally—through regularly monthly in-class “tastings.” The CHC also provides teachers with fun instructional materials about nutrition and agriculture, as well as take-home lessons and recipes for kids and their families.
Its community-wide food budgeting and cooking classes, not to mention Leap into Summer cooking, nutrition education, and physical activity summer camp for kids, share the center’s wealth of health information.
Fast food but healthy food
After talking with people one-on-one and also engaging groups throughout the community, CHC staff realized that Chico families would appreciate a reliable and convenient source of fresh, healthy, and affordable take-home meals on weeknights. This was true among all types of families—those with or without kids, and whether composed of single parents, roommates, married couples, working adults, retirees, or college students. Preparing an appealing meal is often the last thing people (even people who like to cook) can face after a long, hard day.
“Based on what seniors in particular had to say, we realized that the community already likes what we’re cooking,” Gruneisen says. “So then the question became: How can we expand this service to meet everyone else’s needs too?”
Thus the Fresh Pick program.
Since early November of 2015 the CHC has been preparing fresh, from-scratch, take-home meals for the general public, a service available right now just two days per week. Fresh Pick has been a success since Day 1, with orders growing every week.
“This is a win-win-win,” says Gruneisen. “We are preparing fresh meals for people who want them, to support worthwhile programs. And our students are gaining valuable hands-on experience just by being involved in a unique community project.”
Fresh, from-scratch, and tasty
The CHC counts on Sheena Gruenberg, kitchen production manager, and local chef Jessica McDougall for hands-on creativity. Gruenberg helps pick and fine-tune the Fresh Pick menus, and McDougal makes it all happen in commercial kitchen space rented from Italian Guy Catering.
Fresh Pick meals tend to be more complicated than the simple fare working people typically fix on weeknights, which CHC staff members hope is part of the menu’s appeal. And everything, from pan-roasted yams and homemade meatloaf to balsamic vinaigrette dressing, is made from scratch. Either ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat, all meals are as delicious as they are nutritious.
“One of our goals with this project was to provide wholesome food that’s also super tasty,” according to Gruneisen.
Each season features a minimum of six rotating meal selections. Winter choices include Savory Loaf with Green Beans and Garlic-Herb Mashed Potatoes, Shredded Pork and Roasted Veggie Enchiladas, and Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili with or without roasted beef. A vegetarian version of each entrée is offered. In fact, all menus are built around an abundance of carefully prepared fresh vegetables and fruits, the labor-intensive elements too often missing from hurried weekday meals.
Ingredients for Fresh Pick meals come from local sources when possible. Producing entirely “local” meals is a program goal, according to Gruneisen.
Fresh Pick meals for any given week—offered only on Tuesday and Thursday, at this point—need to be ordered and prepaid (online, by PayPal or credit card) no later than midnight of the previous Thursday, so the CHC knows how much food to prepare. All meals are $9 each, though adding meat to some selections adds an extra $2. Fresh Pick meals can be picked up from the CHC building entrance at 25 Main Street in downtown Chico every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.
See what’s currently available through Fresh Pick by visiting the Center for Healthy Communities website. For any questions, contact Fresh Pick.
By Kim Weir: Kim Weir is communications director at the Center for Healthy Communities.