Eric Ove: Cooking and serving several thousand healthy meals per year – and teaching valuable life skills

Bright Futures for Youth’s first-ever full-time kitchen and nutrition program manager Eric Ove has much on his plate, from cooking and serving 150 meals every week to developing and teaching nutrition education programs for youth.

The new position demands flexibility, culinary and management skills, and working with suppliers and volunteers.

“It’s an eclectic collection of skills that seems like it was made for me,” says Ove, who joined Bright Futures for Youth in late September. “I have this wide range of experience that applies to this position.”

Indeed, Ove’s career includes being part of several restaurant teams in Nevada County – including the Holbrooke Hotel and Tofanelli’s Gold Country Bistro – and serving as a restaurant manager in Napa Valley. He also was a supervisor for a children’s educational and behavioral program.

“Cooking has always been near and dear to me,” Ove says. “I read a cookbook like a mystery novel.”

Good thing because getting most children – and even many adults – to eat healthy and nutritious meals can be tough. Plus, food allergies, gluten-free and vegan diets are common.

“They pop up all over the place,” says Ove, who embraces the challenge – and enjoys the success. “It’s always rewarding to have someone’s needs met.”

Creative cooking can lead to a lifetime of healthy meals

Ove says creativity definitely helps meet the dietary needs, while also providing healthy – and great-tasting – meals. For example, Ove recently made pasta with tomato and carrot sauce, and Sloppy Joe’s with less meat (or even no meat for some) and quinoa.

“I’m going to eat the rest of my life, so it may as well taste good,” says Ove, who enjoys experimenting with recipes.

It’s an approach that will serve as the main ingredient for his cooking and nutrition classes with youth. His goal is to have at least one meatless menu and a cultural meal every month.

Ove also would like to teach as many as four cooking classes per month, including a class prompted by the curiosity of a student (perhaps “What is Persian food?”). The classes will cover a range of areas, including how to shop for food, prepare healthy meals and store food.

“It’s all oriented towards building skills the kids can put to use,” he says. “I want them to be able to shop for themselves, cook for themselves and know their nutritional needs.”

Building community relationships is a recipe for success

It’s just part of the many duties as kitchen and nutrition program manager for Bright Futures for Youth.

Ove also handles the buying and managing of food – from hitting the aisles at local grocery stores to meeting with major food donors such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Auburn and Interfaith Food Ministry – and overseeing the state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, which was completed in late 2020.

“I want to stay local and organic whenever we can,” says Ove, who has developed a dehydration program for Bright Futures for Youth, thanks to fruit from Mountain Bounty Farm and Sierra Harvest. “I also want to get more familiar with local farms, and push for more farm to table.”

But perhaps his biggest – and most life-changing – goal is to establish a food pantry for youth in our programs. With donations from Interfaith Food Ministry, Ove has been busy developing a no-questions-asked food pantry. Youth can grab a bag of food, mostly filled with non-perishable items like canned goods and beans, as needed, even every day.

Of course, Ove can’t accomplish his far-reaching goals without the help of volunteers. Bright Futures for Youth has about 20 well-trained volunteers – most with a ServSafe certification – that have been cooking and serving food for years.

“Bright Futures for Youth has had volunteers doing most of everything,” says Ove, who applauds their effort and hard work of serving meals to The Friendship Club and NEO youth. “I’ll be involved, but I want to keep the community active. It’s been such a success.”

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