Delia M. Carrasco, a middle-aged mother of 15, is more than a nutritionist, and she's more than a cook.
During the eight-week "healthy-cooking" course she offers at the community center in Anaheim's impoverished Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood, she teaches residents how to cook nutritious meals on a tight budget, but she stirs in a dose of psychology.
"I tell the women they have to teach their kids self-esteem," Carrasco said Friday morning between offering cooking tips. "I tell them they can go down to the thrift store, buy a nice dress, sew some lace on the collar to make it nice and look good for a job."
Carrasco operates the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, which has been meeting every Friday at the neighborhood community center for the past six months. The University of California extension services pays for the 8-week course, and it is offered free to residents. Those who complete the program receive a university-system certificate.
Rosa Solis, 21, says the program has taught her "how to better my purchases" and "spend less at the market." A mother of two children--a 2-year-old girl and 18-month-old boy--Solis receives food stamps and said she has been able to cut her weekly food bill from $50 a week to $30 since she started attending the class.
At each session over the eight weeks, Carrasco teaches residents, mostly mothers, on topics that include dairy products, fruits, vegetables, meats, other foods, smart shopping, menu planning and sanitation.
Usually the group prepares a meal together. Friday, it was pork and broccoli casserole, a dish that served to demonstrate how to use vegetables and condensed soup to help make a bigger meal out of the small amount of meat.
"This is really the war on poverty," Carrasco said during a break in the two-hour course.
All of the women at Friday's class said they came to the Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood from different parts of Mexico and were surprised to find such high food prices, especially for meats.
Socarro Acevedo, who said she cooks for her husband, five children and two teen-age nieces who live with the family, has learned how to shop for bargains by buying generic products and goods on sale. "When I have to cook for the family, it's very difficult. The prices are up, up up," Acevedo said.
Carrasco offers the women other hints--freezing the meat in serving-sized portions so that it all isn't used at once, and mixing one quart of powdered milk with regular milk to stretch it and make it last longer.
"Make comparisons," she repeats for her students, "use your head, save your money. Everything you have, extend it."