RECIPE FOR HEALTH: Cook your own food


Some retired plumbers and steamfitters in UA Local 290 are well on their way to being gourmet snack chefs, with the help of Lauren Chandler. The Portland-based chef educator leads a quarterly cooking class for Local 290’s retirees wellness program, in which retired members take classes on diet, exercise, sleep, and strategies to fight depression and anxiety. The wellness program has contracted with Chandler for at least five years to teach members about healthy eating. Classes are held at the Tualatin union hall, and simulcast to remote locations.

Respect the tools Chandler tells UA Local 290 retirees the most valuable tool in the kitchen is … hands. | PHOTOS BY MALLORY GRUBEN

Chandler teaches classes to IBEW Local 48 members too. Although she also holds classes for businesses, nonprofits, and work groups, Chandler says unions are among her favorite, because she can supplement good health benefits and pensions with practical advice for cooking delicious, nutritious meals on a budget. Healthy eating boosts immune systems, brain function, and physical health — all benefits that increase the quality of life for workers on and off the job, she said. 

Chandler’s approach to nutrition is subtle: She doesn’t force-feed lessons on which foods have the most macronutrients, or how to eat enough greens to get the daily recommended amount of zinc and iron. Those are all facts most people forget down the line, she said. Even if they do remember, it doesn’t do any good if they don’t know how to use them — or how to make them taste good. 

“The way into healthy eating is tastiness,” she said. “I show that these meals are approachable and doable for anyone’s time and budget.”  

On May 18, she taught Local 290 retirees three toppings to sprinkle on hard boiled eggs for a quick snack. She also whipped up a roasted red pepper romesco sauce for dipping veggies, as well as strawberry arugula and peach basil spinach smoothies.  

“Most smoothies usually only have fruit. They’re very sweet and not necessarily the healthiest breakfast,” Chandler told the class. “I’m not saying don’t eat fruit, but do have it with other nutritious ingredients, like nuts and dark leafy greens.” 

UA 290 retirees often tell her that they make her meals at home. After the May 18 class, at least a quarter of in person attendees asked her where they could find that day’s recipes. 

“In my career as a pipefitter, I never dreamed I’d be sitting in a room with a little lady learning how to make a salad,” one man told her. “Thank you.”

Lauren Chandler’s top five healthy eating tips: 

  • Cook more When you cook from home, you’re more likely to use healthy ingredients like plants, beans, nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits, Chandler said. That leads to a better diet with less takeout and processed foods.
  • Make small, easy, and predictable changes Instead of introducing an entirely new diet, build on your existing cooking habits with small changes. Chandler suggests adding another vegetable to a meal you already make. “If your lunch is usually a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato, add shredded carrots or fresh herbs.” 
  • Eat more dark leafy greens  “We know those are really good for us, and you can add them pretty much anywhere, to smoothies, main dishes, side dishes, cooked, raw,” Chandler said. She shared her recipe for the strawberry arugula smoothie as a place to start. Or try adding greens to takeout; Chandler enhances her Taco Bell bean and rice burritos with fresh spinach. 
  • Keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer “If you have a variety of ingredients on hand, then you can whip up something delicious on the fly and will take fewer last minute trips to the store … and eat less frozen pizza!” Chandler said.  
  • Play with your food Give yourself permission to have fun in the kitchen by experimenting with new ingredients, flavor combinations, or cooking styles. You might discover a tasty new meal idea, Chandler said. “And if you make something that’s not great, then you’ve learned from it next time.” 


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