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Nutrition in Las Nubes — Jenna and Dacie


Culminating a month long study of nutrition in Las Nubes, we are in the school house kitchen with wood smoldering under the steel cook top, fresh herbs cleaned off coarse stems, boiled potatoes and carrots steaming in a colander. Meanwhile, women dressed in bright fabrics, children bonking with energy, and men straight from the fields make their way across the schoolyard to the classroom. The air swirls with a timid and curious anxiety as 70 people settle into small desks and await Semilla Nueva’s first community presentation of 2010.

This presentation was held to share the preliminary results of an observatory nutrition study that involved 15 families from Las Nubes. For four weeks, we had observed each family in their kitchen for a total of six meals—three meals a day for two consecutive days. The goal of the project was to learn the details of food preparation and quantity of nutrients available to the people in this rural Guatemalan town. To Semilla Nueva, this information will provide a platform from which we can design future community projects. In addition, the observatory period created space in which families felt comfortable to share personal stories about the socioeconomic challenges that the people of Las Nubes experience every day.

Observing cooking habits was not always easy for us. Oftentimes, families went full days only eating tortillas and drinking coffee. The struggle to put nutritious meals on the table was clear–families are regularly restricted to spending four Quetzales ($ .50) per meal to feed five to seven people. In addition to going without protein and other important nutrients, people in Las Nubes generally did not use garlic or other spices to flavor their foods; rather, they used an average of three times the recommended daily amount of salt. But we didn’t see these overwhelming dietary needs without feeling a great hope for improvement. We felt encouraged by the energy and joy present in the children as well as the openness of the community to learn and try new foods or cooking methods.

When asked why the people in this community are open to learning about their nutrition, their answer is simple. They want to provide the very best for their children, and they see better nutrition as a way to help their children.

This study helped us to identify a number of accessible improvements to the nutrition of people’s diets. Accompanying the presentation of the nutritional data and native herbs in our community presentation, we prepared four dishes in an interactive cooking lesson to encourage better nutrition. We designed these recipes with women from the community, and they focused on adding nutritious and accessible ingredients and also cooking in such a way as to keep nutrients accessible. The dishes emphasized including native herbs, eating raw vegetables, combining rice and beans, using garlic and onion rather than salt, and boiling foods for shorter amounts of time while preparing soups.


Aromas of garlic, onion, and herbs filled the room, as people shifted in their seats and grinned with excitement to try our Guatemalan-gringo creations. Children ran up to the front of the room to help pass out plates, as their parents sat eagerly awaiting the food. While people ate the sample dishes, you could see that they were enjoying the new flavors. With every bite came a warm smile in our direction, accompanied by friendly jokes and requests for more. Positive energy burst from the seams as we parted with words of thanks, to take a deep breath in the cool air brought by fast passing clouds.

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