The Food Bank Releases Flexible (and affordable) Pantry Cookbook

In August of 2020, six months after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted their in-person outreach programs, Food Bank nutritionists Kristina Mullin and Osvaldina Rodrigues knew it was time to re-envision how they would carry out their work. Nutrition education is an integral part of The Food Bank’s mission that helps seniors, families, and other individuals learn more about how to prepare healthy meals affordably.

Prior to the pandemic, the team conducted cooking demonstrations and nutrition workshops at senior centers, public libraries, and food pantries. However, with safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds, hosting these public events, many of which catered to at-risk seniors, was simply not possible.

As Mullin and Rodrigues were thinking about new ways to engage with the community, Michelle Geoffroy, Agency Relations Manager at The Food Bank, conveyed interesting information that sparked an idea. In a network call with Food Bank partners— local food pantries and meal sites in the region that receive food from our organization for distribution. Geoffroy heard from many of these partners that they needed more free recipes that they could distribute to individuals and families who came to their food distributions.

“She told us that our partners were getting tired of the same, free PDF that is available,” said Mullin, who is now Direct Programs Manager at The Food Bank. “We had five years of tried and tested recipes that have worked for The Food Bank in our cooking demos, so we thought that a cookbook would be a great project to work on.”

Photo of the Nutrition Team

Over the course of 19 months, the nutritionists created “The Flexible Pantry”, a 36-page cookbook that is being released this month in PDF form and distributed to Food Bank partners for free. These organizations will then be able to give free copies of the cookbook or individual recipes to participants who visit their locations for meals and groceries. A print version of the “The Flexible Pantry” may also be distributed in the future.

Each of the 25 recipes included in the book is designed to be made with basic cooking equipment such as a stovetop or a microwave, an important consideration for people cooking in motel rooms, small kitchens or with limited resources. “We wanted it to be very easy,” emphasized Rodrigues, expressing a sentiment that she said carried through every aspect of the thought process behind the cookbook. “Don’t make it stressful, just use what you have.”

To further increase ease and accessibility, Mullin and Rodrigues encourage people to add personal touches to recipes. For example, many recipes in which beans are a major component can be made with any type of bean, allowing people to choose whatever variety is most familiar or most available. Also, included in the cookbook are three additional pages with helpful tips for people unfamiliar with cooking and baking, understanding and converting measurements, reading food labels, and effectively stocking a pantry on a budget. The goal is to provide people with a roadmap for how to use what they already have at home in a way that suits them.

Recipie for Coconut Chickpea Stew“That’s what we’re trying to promote,” said Mullin, “freedom to keep the variety and to experiment.”

Of all the recipes included in “The Flexible Pantry”, the nutrition team’s favorite is the Chickpea Stew. However, both nutritionists emphasized that the Maple Balsamic Roasted Vegetables were a crowd favorite at cooking demonstrations and during the recipe testing stage with Food Bank staff. The project itself has been a true collaborative effort, from the photography of the dishes (all of which were taken in one morning) to the incredibly helpful feedback received from The Food Bank’s partners and local cookbook authors who assisted in the editing process.

When asked how they were feeling now that their hard work has finally been released to the public, both nutritionists expressed how meaningful this moment is to them.

“This is my lifestyle,” said Rodrigues, “how I live and breathe. For me, cooking is therapeutic.” Mullin added, “We hope you enjoy what we have made and look forward to seeing all the delicious dishes you make with these recipes.”

View and share a copy of The Flexible Pantry.