As a first-generation Mexican-American, Esperanza Peralta-Guerrero spent most of her life cooking a traditional Mexican diet—lots of flavorful pork dishes cooked in lard and supplemented with processed sugar. She had a desire to eat and cook healthier meals, but she didn’t know where to begin.

A friend invited her to her first yoga class at Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center in National City. That day, they were also doing cooking demonstrations.

Peralta-Guerrero was immediately interested and signed up for the Kitchenista program. It took a year for her to get through the waiting list, but she says the program changed her life and the life of her family.

“I’m most proud of my mom,” she explains. Her mom is now 90 years old and at the time that Peralta-Guerrero started the program, her mother was pre-diabetic. She shared all the information with her mother who was initially skeptical, but gradually, her mother changed a lifetime of cooking habits and started eating meatless meals, eliminated processed foods and switched from sugar to Stevia.

“She really accepted all of it and started eating more vegetables and more salads, which are not traditional in a Mexican meal,” Peralta-Guerrero says. “I think it’s because she felt the difference, not just saw the difference in me.”

The Kitchenista program stresses the benefits of cooking with organic foods and shares meatless recipes and ways to incorporate healthy substitutions into traditional meals.

Peralta-Guerrero says that her husband grumbled a little about missing red meat at mealtime, but he had faith that she was looking out for his best interests. She says that he too noticed a difference in himself.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but for me I felt not so heavy,” Peralta-Guerrero says. “I feel like I have more of a balance in my body. I don’t miss the meat or any of the foods that I used to eat."

Though she concedes that she didn’t give up tamales, she now eats them with chicken, not pork, and she only eats those from her own kitchen or her mother’s so she knows what they are made with.

Three years as a Kitchenista has changed her entire eating life. She now has a small garden at home and grows many of the fruits and vegetables that her family eats most. Her husband has planted tomatoes, zucchini, chiles, and bell peppers, and they also have nectarine, peach, golden mandarin, apricot, and lemon trees. She says that it sounds like a lot, but you don’t need much space to start a family garden.

As a volunteer educator at the center she learned that food gardens aren’t so difficult to maintain. Having fresh produce is also a great motivator to use them in meals and share them with family.

After Peralta-Guerrero finished the program, her 47-year-old daughter did the same. Now, when her family cooks together, they are creating healthy meals that everyone enjoys. Peralta-Guerrero hopes this cultural shift will mean that she will be preparing nutritious meals with her mom and daughter for years to come.

Kitchenistas Website

Go-To Breakfast: a slice of Ezekiel bread with coconut oil plus yogurt and fruit, usually a mix of strawberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, pecans, almonds, cinnamon, and a teaspoon of maple syrup.

Go-To Snacks: raw mango, homemade coconut balls and chocolate peanut butter balls, handful of nuts, orange slices with chili, powder and pink salt

Go-To Salad: Greek salad with Napa and green cabbage, tomato, cucumber, feta cheese, cilantro, thin slices of red onion, kalamata olives, and extra-virgin olive oil.

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