AmeriCorps Members Share Tips for Cooking & Eating Healthy

The delicious aroma wafting through Second Harvest a couple of weeks ago turned out to be a large wok of sliced leeks that AmeriCorps volunteer, Ryanne Maldonado, was stir-frying in the nutrition education kitchen. As she tossed in large handfuls of purple cabbage, another AmeriCorps volunteer, Megan Riggs, was busy setting up for the day’s nutrition presentation.

Ryanne cooks up a healthy snack

Every other Thursday, this power duo serves up nutrition information and healthy snacks to food bank volunteers. Come break time, the volunteers take a breather from sorting and bagging food in the warehouse to grab a snack and participate in interactive sessions on everything from the merits of cooking with healthy fats to deciphering package labels.

Megan gives a presentation

She says the volunteers really enjoy the classes, which are not lectures but more like conversations. “When they arrive, they ask if we are having a class that day,” Ryanne says. “I can tell they really get a lot out of each session.”

Ryanne and Megan also team up for tastings and demonstrations at Passion for Produce distribution sites, again using the seasonal fruits and vegetables that people receive, so they will know how to prepare the food when they get it home.

Ryanne creates recipes using seasonal produce and staples on hand. Here’s one of her delicious and easy recipes.

Asian-style Purple Cabbage and Leeks


2 tbsp sesame oil

3 leeks, washed and chopped, dark green parts separated

1 head purple cabbage, chopped

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 tsp brown sugar

2 tbsp soy sauce

Red pepper flakes (optional)


Heat sesame oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add white part of leeks and sauté 3 or 4 minutes until softened a bit. Add cabbage, rice vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes (if using). Mix well and sauté about 10 minutes or until cabbage is slightly cooked down. Add the greens of the leeks and cook until they are bright green and the cabbage is flexible but still crunchy.

Yields 4 servings.

Nutrition Information (per serving):

165 Calories, 7g fat, 4g protein, 6g fiber, 9g sugar

What is AmeriCorps?

The AmeriCorps program was founded in 1993 and offers nearly 75,000 service opportunities throughout the United States to meet critical needs in education, the environment, public safety, homeland security, and other areas. Since 1994, nearly 500,000 AmeriCorps members have served with thousands of nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and faith-based organizations nationwide.

Depending on which program they participate in, members either receive housing or a small living allowance to pay for rent and food, so they don’t go into debt while in service. Once members finish a year, they receive an education award that can be used to pay off student loans or continue their education.

After graduating from college, both Ryanne and Megan wanted an opportunity to use their Spanish. Since they’ve been at Second Harvest, they have developed a bilingual curriculum and materials for classes and are actively involved in managing the Passion for Produce program, as well as teaching.

Ryanne says AmeriCorps offers an amazing way to get real job experience while working to help the community. “Our work gives us more autonomy and creativity than any entry level job could offer.”

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