Parent Hilda Cazares, a vital member of Parents United for Healthy Schools.
As parents file in to the Parents United for Healthy Schools meeting, they are greeted with an enticing breakfast featuring a rainbow of fresh fruits, roasted peppers, a vegetable-egg casserole and much more. Standing behind the trays and heaters is the chef at work, Hilda Cazares, greeting the familiar faces and assuring them that all the ingredients are natural. She’s trying out a new recipe, an oatmeal cake with a mixed berry sauce, which the parents at the meeting eagerly take back to their tables to sample.
Hilda is a passionate and involved organizer and advocate -- you may have seen her share her story on our blog. She found out about Healthy Schools Campaign while serving on the local school council and the Parent Advisory Council in her community. At the meetings, meeting organizers would bring in coffee and sugary pastries, and Hilda saw an opportunity for parents to set the example for how they wanted their children to live.
“It started with my family,” Hilda says. “My mom is in her eighties. She was obese and suffering from epilepsy; my son was overweight and my daughter was overweight. I needed to learn how to make changes. I started doing this with my family and wanted to share with other parents. When you’re involved with schools, you want to bring something good and different for everyone.”
Hilda was interested in cooking, and she found an opportunity in her meetings with the parent-group clusters, where she found breakfast fare to be sugary pastries. She suggested a change, and others suggested she take the reins. With the support of her family, including her husband, a fellow chef (which creates an interesting competitive dynamic, she noted), she applied for a cooking course through Chicago Community Kitchens and after the full-time, four-month program developed a passion for creating fresh, healthy recipes.
“What motivates me is that the parents are happy,” she says. “That keeps you moving, because cooking has a lot of challenges and is a lot of work. You have to find good products. You have to find something the parents will like. I overheard one lady say, ‘You know, I don’t really like eggs, but these are good!’ This motivates me.”
But the real transformations happened at home. When Hilda cooks for her family now, she cooks using more fruits and vegetables and has gotten her family interested in healthier eating. Fast food is no longer a staple, and her parents and children are healthier. “My family started changing, especially my mom. She’s healthier, no diabetes, her epilepsy is very rare, and my daughter, son and I lost weight, too."
Hilda advises her fellow parents and community members to educate themselves about healthy foods and begin gradually changing bad habits while encouraging their children and family members to do the same. She says cooking healthy food together is a great way not only to learn positive lifestyle changes, but to spend some quality time together and learn from one another. “My grandson is going to be three years old, and he will pull a chair to get closer to the kitchen so he can check on the food,” she says with a laugh. “I told my husband, ‘We have a future chef over here.’"
Watch the video below to hear more of Hilda's story!