Get Your Plate in Shape

Roper YMCA Offers New Healthy Cooking Classes

by Kirsten Harrington

It’s not everywhere that you can indulge in a taste of quinoa curry chicken salad or pumpkin oatmeal after a good workout or pick up local zucchini following a Zumba class. Those tasty treats are just part of Winter Garden Roper YMCA’s new effort to “Get Your Plate in Shape” for 2016. Both members and nonmembers can take part in weekly healthy cooking demonstrations organized by chef Gary Appelsies, director of healthy eating for the YMCA of Central Florida. In addition to the demonstrations, the YMCA hosts a weekly farmer’s market, featuring fresh produce from local farms, Tuesdays from 10 a.m.-noon.

A transplant from San Francisco, chef Gary is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, holds a master’s in nutrition science, and is a certified health coach. His outgoing personality and passion for healthy, flavorful cooking make him the perfect champion for encouraging others to take a second look at what’s on
their plates.

The goal of the program, which started last October, is to help people better understand that healthy food can be tasty, easy to prepare and fun to make. The free cooking demonstrations are offered three to four times per week, and local chefs often make guest appearances to give participants a chance to sample healthy dishes from area restaurants.

Roper YMCA Cooking Class by Gary Appelsies

Chef Gary Appelsies, director of healthy eating for the YMCA of Central Florida, presents cooking demonstrations as part of Roper YMCA’s “Get Your Plate in Shape” program.

In early spring, chef Gary plans to add hands-on cooking classes, which will be open to both YMCA members and the public for a moderate cost.

“The classes will be very hands-on (with four to six participants) and educational,” he said.

Topics will range from casual dishes to disease prevention, and chef Gary will explain the health benefits of the foods being prepared. Reducing chronic disease, an increased feeling of well-being, weight loss, better sleep patterns and improved mood are just a few of the benefits served up by healthy eating.

“It’s all about changing mindsets,” chef Gary said.

People think that eating healthy is expensive, complicated or all about salads and vegan food. It’s really about using lots of spices and herbs, and lots of fresh whole ingredients.

“Healthy eating can be fun, and easy, and really tasty,” chef Gary said. “Simple and easy – that’s the goal.”

Chef Gary takes time to talk with each person who stops by the test kitchen, answering questions, and offering samples and recipes. At a recent demonstration, a fit-looking senior sporting a tank top and gym shorts grabbed some veggies and dip, and offered
a handshake.

“Guess how old I am,” the silver-haired gentleman dared chef Gary. After a few rounds of guessing — 75? 80? 82? — chef Gary had made friends with the jovial 86-year-old and promised to translate the recipe into the gentleman’s native Brazilian language.

“It’s all about relationships,” chef Gary said. “The response from the community has been fantastic. They’re totally open to learning about healthy eating. I have 15 to 20 people who attend the demos regularly and 75 to 100 who come to each one.”

The YMCA plans to expand its healthy eating programs to the neighboring DrPhillips location in the near future. For information about upcoming demonstrations and classes, call 407-656-6430.

Herbed Yogurt Dip

courtesy of chef Gary Appelsies

This easy-to-make low-fat dip works well as an after-school snack or tasty party appetizer.

1 cup plain yogurt, Greek-style preferred
1 teaspoon finely grated garlic
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh vegetables, pita bread,
chips and crackers to serve

In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with your favorite fresh vegetables, pita bread, chips or crackers. Cover and refrigerate. Enjoy leftovers within three to four days.

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