A new program from 18 Reasons and Bi-Rite nourishes the moms who need it most—starting with free groceries and cooking classes.
For fans of the sweet citrus at Bi-Rite Market and cooking classes at 18 Reasons, there’s now another heartwarming reason to love this local family of food businesses. 18 Reasons launched a new program called Nourishing Pregnancy, hosting cooking classes for expectant parents, specifically from the Black and Latinx communities. In San Francisco, 20 percent of Black women and 27 percent of Latinx women experience food insecurity during pregnancy, compared to almost no white women, according to the SF Health Improvement Project (SFHIP). In response, Nourishing Pregnancy sends all of their participants a free box of groceries every week, along with recipes and additional resources. For parents who might be struggling to get groceries, let alone afford a doula, the program is widening access to good food, good recipes and a community that’s rich in support.
Nourishing Pregnancy first launched in June 2021, and it’s grown to serve more than a hundred families last year all across the Bay Area. It was co-founded by Briana Tejuco, the program director of Nourishing Pregnancy, and Sarah Nelson, executive director of 18 Reasons. Tejuco went to culinary school at California Culinary Academy, has a nutrition certificate from City College of San Francisco, and a degree in health education from SF State, and she’s a mom to three boys. Speaking from personal experience, when it came to her own pregnancies and deliveries, Tejuco says, “My lived experience of what it meant to have a baby at a hospital came with a lot of fear, anxiety, questioning and trauma.”
In contrast, “Nourishing Pregnancy is trying to create a holistic approach to prenatal and postnatal care,” she says. “And that’s done through food, social support, community building and creating a space for birthers to feel supported and cared for … This is our response to that huge, huge gap in the medical system, folks going into the hospital and not feeling like they have that support. And food is at the heart.”
The program runs for sixteen weeks, and it’s all online classes, so busy parents can Zoom in while they’re on lunch breaks or changing diapers. Birthers typically start in their twenty-sixth week of pregnancy, to cover the third trimester and “fourth trimester,” as it’s sometimes called, when they’re isolated at home with a newborn. (Tejuco prefers the term “birthers” rather than “moms,” to include trans men, nonbinary folks, all birthing people). For the first two months, the focus is prenatal nutrition and cooking. The second two months, it shifts to postpartum sleep, lactation and other wellness topics. More than a dozen instructors include culinary professionals, registered dietitians and nutritionists, doulas and midwives, and other experts. “And all of our instructors and staff mirror and represent culturally who we’re serving,” Tejuco says. “So all of our team identifies as Black or Latinx.”
Each class welcomes about twenty birthers, referred by local clinics and community centers. They’re split into a couple of groups, so Black birthers meet on Wednesday nights, and Latinx birthers on Thursday nights for sessions in Spanish. Teyler Wallace is a doula, chef and lactation consultant who teaches several classes. “The first class, everybody’s a little shy … so some of them have their cameras off,” she describes. “But by the fourth class, everybody has their cameras on, and we’re getting to see babies. People are joking and more confident to talk and participate with the class. It definitely feels like a community.” The birthers pepper her with questions about sleep, nursing, anything. Sometimes an older kid will join in chopping carrots on camera, while her own three-year-old son wanders in and out of the kitchen. “It’s very much this cocoon of motherhood, and there’s something really special about that.”
For the cooking classes, Bi-Rite delivers a free box of groceries every week. Each comes with one or two recipes, to be demoed while birthers watch or cook along. They focus on familiar ingredients and brands — “nothing you could only get at Whole Foods,” Tejuco insists. The recipes are simple, nutritious and culturally appropriate: lots of healing soups and stews, including Wallace’s fan-favorite super green pozole, a bright blend of tangy tomatillos, chard and spinach brimming with hunks of chicken and hominy and topped with herbs and salsa. Oven-fried chicken is dredged in whole-wheat flour and cornflakes, drizzled lightly in olive oil and baked until crispy. Even grab-and-go breakfasts and snacks, like a chia seed pudding, are a slam-dunk for a purse or diaper bag. Recipes typically serve four to six, which might mean dinner tonight for a family, or meals all week for a single mom.
Families love the groceries and recipes, but the program is so much more than a few free meals. All of these families get access to a library of recipes, in the hope that they’ll come back to these nutritious ingredients and easy preparations again and again. Tucked inside the boxes, the program also surprises them with the occasional bouquet of flowers, a cute onesie and Mother’s Day card, to create “little touch points of care,” Tejuco says. Birthers consistently say it’s meaningful to get access to these experts that so few can afford, especially in an intimate setting. Whether it’s a sleep therapist or lactation consultant, “They really enjoy that personal time and getting their questions answered.” And there’s a real community, even offscreen — many birthers make friends and connect outside of class.
“It’s an amazing thing, what Nourishing Pregnancy is doing,” Wallace says. “Supporting birthing people coincides with supporting women and uprooting systemic racism and societal injustices. And it really has such a profound and lasting impact in our communities for generations to come.”
Maricel Rivera welcomed her daughter Elizabeth Gonzalez this past fall, who’s three months old at the time of writing. Rivera and her partner already had three boys, ages fourteen, ten, and seven years old. They live in Richmond in the East Bay, where Rivera bussed dishes in a restaurant, before losing her job during the pandemic. But a doctor at a clinic referred her to Nourishing Pregnancy, and Rivera says she really loved the program, from learning how to eat better during pregnancy to taking care of her new baby. She especially enjoyed the weekly boxes. “I love to cook, so I liked discovering new ingredients, and getting recipes to put them together,” Rivera says, as translated by a member of the Nourishing Pregnancy staff. “There were many things I had never tried before, like orzo and kale.” And she’s still using the recipes, and rolling the turkey meatballs, which those big brothers gobble up. “They have grated carrots and squashes, so more vegetables hidden inside,” she says.
Despite the odds, Rivera says this was the smoothest of all her pregnancies. “Thanks to this program, I was able to nourish myself better throughout pregnancy,” she says. “My baby came out the biggest of all of my babies, because I was eating so well.” Baby Elizabeth popped out at seven pounds and fourteen ounces, to be precise.
Lupita Hernandez of Nourishing Pregnancy provided translation services for this article.