A Pueblo counseling center offering nutrition classes as part of its mental health services is prepping for April cooking classes designed to help participants prioritize their physical health and the food-mood connection.
A New Leaf Therapy is a counseling center emphasizing nutrition as an aspect of mental health by offering the classes, said Regan Young, the center’s founder. Class instructor Taylor Lopez-Cepero is a Pueblo native who returned home after receiving her master’s degree in dietetics at Montana State University so she “could help give back” to her community, she said.
“Every friend and family member I’ve talked to struggles in some way with eating,” Lopez-Cepero said. “The cooking classes are a fun or fresh way for anyone in the community to find joy in cooking.”
Participants are encouraged to bring a partner, friend or even a teenage son or daughter to learn how to cook or overcome the nerves surrounding the thought of cooking.
“Sometimes people don’t feel confident or have ideas for meals. And if you are the one person who always has to cook for the family it can feel overwhelming,” Lopez-Cepero explained.
The “Spring into Cooking” class runs from 5-6 pm every Wednesday starting April 5 and wrapping up April 26. The spring classes focus on vegetarian meals.
“A lot of times in Pueblo you can’t find vegetarian options. Meat eaters are welcome, too, because they may think it won’t taste good, but this may inspire them to try something like meatless Monday,” she said.
Dishes include pepper ricotta primavera, broccoli and egg fried rice, sheet pan portobello fajitas and buttermilk fried tofu with smokey collard greens. Cost for each participating duo is $100 and includes all four classes.
“We wanted to make the classes affordable and accessible. So it’s interactive cooking where everyone helps make the dish,” Young said.
“We supply the food, cook it together and then everyone gets to eat a sample. They also get the recipes to take home with them,” Young said.
The teacher who inspired the student
Lopez-Cepero said it was her mother, Laurice, a South High School science teacher, who helped her learn the science of how the body works in relation to food. Laurice also would cook for her family every day, inspiring her daughter with her culinary skills.
Lopez-Cepero, a 2013 South High School graduate, also offers coaching sessions with individuals, couples and families helping them with food guides to tackle everything from weight loss or health conditions such as diabetes to build self-confidence and self-esteem.
One of her favorite things to do is offer classes for kids at local schools or the Boys and Girls Club of Pueblo County.
Young said it is counselors like Lopez-Cepero who have helped her business evolve to keep up with the times. She started the counseling service in 2015 and has since grown to employ 30 mental health therapists, 10 of whom are graduate-level intern therapists, and five assistants.
The therapists offer all angles of assistance for all ages, including helping people experiencing depression, anxiety or trauma. Young even brought in a massage therapist once a month and emphasized integrating treatment with primary physician care because “the field is moving more that way,” she said.
“I don’t know why at some point mental health became so separate from physical health,” Young said. “It’s all connected in one body.”
“About a year ago we brought Taylor in to do nutrition coaching so we could start to prioritize whole person, holistic health. There’s nothing else quite like this in Pueblo,” she said.
A New Leaf Therapy operates out of four different buildings which have been thoroughly restored, three of which are in Mesa Junction and one at East 11th Street and Santa Fe Avenue. The cooking classes will be held at 117 E. Pitkin Ave. center.
To sign up, call 719-948-7120. Another round of cooking classes will be offered in June.
Young said she was honored by the recent Best of Pueblo awards for A New Leaf Therapy, which has been named the city’s favorite counseling service and won a top three spot among places to work.
The center staff offer in-person and telehealth services for both mental health counseling and nutrition coaching so they can serve anyone in Colorado. Find out more at anewleaftherapy.org.
More food news: Here’s how the Pueblo County school districts stand to benefit from the new free meals program
This article originally appeared on The Pueblo Chieftain: Pueblo counseling service teaching nutritional therapy classes