Nutrition program teaches that healthier eating is within reach

The Food Bank of Western Mass

Assistant Nutrition Coordinator Laura Fries leads a microwave cooking demo for homeless families residing in the Holyoke Hotel

Hunger is not just about lack of food. It’s also about lack of nutritious food. Here at The Food Bank, our dedicated Nutrition department addresses the connection between food and health by leading programs in the community, and educating our neighbors in need so they can make healthier choices. Drawing upon their years of experience, they share their knowledge and improve clients’ health by raising awareness of the foods they eat.

Our nutrition outreach programs address many of the larger nutritional challenges facing our community. In addition, we also work closely with many clients who are unaware of how easy it can be to eat healthy on a limited budget. While many people feel that they can’t afford to eat healthy food, the cost (in both money and preparation time) of home cooked meals versus fast food is overestimated.

“People are under a lot of stress, but they want to feed their families more nutritious meals,” said Diane Alpern, The Food Bank’s Nutrition Coordinator. “Getting people motivated to feel good about cooking with healthy ingredients is important. We are providing full-length educational workshops that teach how to make a healthy plate without spending more.” With more than 20 years experience in the field, including hospital and outpatient environments, Diane is a registered dietitian and an active member of the Western Area Massachusetts Dietetic Association.

While fast food may be tempting for families on a tight budget, it can be much easier to resist the drive-thru knowing that there are healthier options well within reach. Just think about what $2.49 might buy at a fast food place, compared with how many healthy meals could be prepared with one dozen eggs for $2.49. Eating healthy meals doesn’t require long hours in the kitchen and expensive ingredients. Our workshops and supermarket tours empower people with limited incomes to make healthy choices for their families. Recipes incorporating food being distributed as ingredients are often passed out at Mobile Food Bank and Brown Bag sites. We even provide recipes that only require a microwave, for those who find themselves without access to a kitchen.

“One of the recipes was made with spaghetti squash and some of the people attending the class had never tasted any kind of squash,” said Darleen St. Jacques, Program Manager of Loaves and Fishes Kitchen at Open Pantry in Springfield, following a cooking demonstration. “They now are buying and cooking different types of squash available at the grocery stores! They were so excited to learn about this vegetable.”

“Nutrition has such an impact on every aspect on your life,” states Laura Fries, The Food Bank’s Assistant Nutrition Coordinator. She notes that small changes bring both immediate results, such as more energy and a better ability to focus, as well as reducing the likelihood of serious health issues in the future. Laura will receive a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst this May. She brings a fresh perspective to organizing education programs at a community level and is enthusiastic about teaching healthy eating habits.

We believe that everyone has a right to nutritious food regardless of their circumstances. Lack of nutritious food has a domino effect on all aspects of a person’s life. Without access to critical items such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, areas with high rates of food insecurity experience increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. The healthier you are,  the more time you can spend improving your situation instead of missing work or school due to health concerns. During National Nutrition Month in March, we shine a light on the importance eating well plays in our community. But Nutrition is important to the fight against hunger every day of the year.

Be sure to visit our Nutrition Tips for more information about preparing healthy meals, and a number of easy and delicious recipes.