4 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating
The holidays are coming up and one of the most notable (and best!) attributes of this season is all the yummy food that isn’t necessarily good for us. How can we enjoy some of the great food and still keep our health intact?
Mentally commit to eating a little bit better than you did last year. This could be eating a little less or a little more of the healthy stuff that is provided. If you commit to it mentally you are more likely to follow through physically.
Take a favorite food and add some health benefits to it. Maybe in the mashed potatoes, you experiment with adding mashed cauliflower or add a few dashes of turmeric to your mac and cheese. Most of the time you won’t even notice a difference and you just boosted the health factor of that food.
Eat throughout the day instead of starving up until the meal. This way you may not feel the need to eat as much since you’re not as hungry. One thing I try to keep in mind, and this may not work if you have a huge family that you spend the holidays with, is that the food will not disappear if I don’t eat it at that second. You can always put away what you did not have time or room to eat.
If I were to ask you what your favorite root vegetables are most would answer: potatoes, carrots, garlic, and maybe even beets. These root vegetables are typically the star root vegs that steal the show. Let me introduce or reintroduce you to some of the unsung heroes of the root group.
First out we have Parsnips which have a similar resemblance to carrots. Parsnips are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. They also contain both fiber and calcium along with suppling many antioxidants to help prevent oxidative stress and decrease damage to your cells. These are great for soups and roasting as they have a sweet and earthy flavor.
Next in the lineup are Turnips! Turnips are known for being lower in calories and carbs and high in nutrients. They are loaded with vitamins K, A, C, E, B1, B3, B5, B6, B2, and B9 and those are only the vitamins. The plethora of minerals include manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, copper, phosphorus. *announcer voice* AND THAT’S NOT ALL! Turnips also include omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein. This root is definitely a powerhouse of nutrients. Turnips are available year-round, they can be eaten raw or cooked and you can even eat the greens that add to the health benefits you’re already getting.
Finally, let’s talk about Rutabagas. Now Rutabagas are amongst the kings of vitamin C. One medium rutabaga has 107% of the Daily Value of vitamin C. They also have a good source of potassium, magnesium, and vitamin E. Rutabagas also have 36% of the recommended daily fiber which promotes bowel health. When you cook rutabagas it releases a sweet yet savory flavor, similar to a potato but less starchy.
Have you ever had any of these root vegetables or any other uncommon root vegetables? Don’t let these precious root vegetables sit in the dark, underused. They taste great and are great for you! Try to incorporate them into your upcoming meals and reap the benefits of these unsung root heroes.
by Cynthia Wilson
Manny the Mobile Kitchen and Pop-Up Pantry vehicle was invited to participate in the Montgomery County Farm Tour this year. Our driver, Maka Graham, and coordinator, Jaimie Mulligan, had a wonderful time introducing participants, donors, volunteers, and community members to our two programs that feature the vehicle. For those that do not know, “Manny” is a retro-fitted school bus with a full commercial kitchen onboard. Manna uses this kitchen to go to schools on a monthly basis to teach elementary school students grades 3rd through 6th basic nutrition principles through cooking and tasting. In addition to the classes for children, we also use the bus to host Pop-Up Pantries in different underserved areas of our County. We fill the vehicle with racks full of fresh produce, and go to places in Montgomery County that benefit from this type of outreach. We also use these opportunities to connect new people to Manna’s mission and services.
When people entered the vehicle on Saturday, they were greeted with a choice of two different samples featuring local produce items from Red Wiggler Community Farm. The first recipe used the beautiful multicolored heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil picked by Red Wiggler growers. We created a simple Caprese salad with the addition of some whole mozzarella, freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar. Just as we do in our children’s nutrition education classes, we focused on highlighting the featured ingredients. The second recipe took advantage of the multitude of local cucumbers and tomatoes to make a simple chopped salad with onions, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The bus provided a shady and cool refuge on a beautiful sunny day.
If you are interested in bringing Manny to your school, please reach out to our Program Coordinator, Priya Narang at email@example.com. We are still creating our calendar and are always eager to include new partnerships in our plan. We have limited space available, so please act soon.
This celebration of local ingredients and Manna’s mission to share good food in welcoming spaces continued that evening guests at the Poolesville Golf Course. Central Farm Markets, a longstanding partner and support of Manna’s through our Farm to Food Bank program showcased some of their local vendors at a Farm to Table dinner organized in conjunction with the 2019 Farm Tour.
Diners plates were full of delicious, local ingredients from Community Food Rescue network member Plow and Stars Farm, Manna Farm to Food Bank partner One Acre Farm and a few generous vendors that regularly provide product from the Bethesda Central Farm Market including Young’s Harvest and Twin Springs Farm. What made the spread even more satisfying was the fact that 10% of the proceeds were given to Manna to further our vision of a more food secure Montgomery County.
“Eat your greens” was a common phrase at my dinner table growing up. My mother was desperate to get all three of her children to eat vibrant leafy vegetables. Red, orange, yellow, purple, and basically any other colored vegetables and fruits never seemed to spark as much dinner-time contention as the green ones. For years my little sister would even pick parsley out of her mashed potatoes to avoid anything green! I often wondered why my mom was so insistent that I eat the pile of spinach sitting on my plate. Today we are going to explore why greens are central to a healthy diet, where to find a variety of different greens, and how to cook them to make them irresistible.
Leafy green vegetables are an incredibly critical part of a healthy diet. They’re packed with vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and fiber. It is important to get these nutrients when you are a child, adult, and senior because they help you build strong bones and keep your digestive system regular. There has also been a lot of evidence that green-heavy diets help protect the brain by sharpening the memory and slowing neurodegenerative decline (NPR). Greens can be the nutritional superstars of a meal and offer numerous health benefits if you eat them every day. Some of these benefits include reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure (Healthline).
As humans, we are lucky to be able to eat an extremely large variety of different foods. Our food diversity is one of the reasons why people from different cultures and traditions have such unique and interesting recipes. Within the world of food, green vegetables are a massive category. Some popular leafy options include spinach, kale, and collard greens. We can usually find these verdant staples in the frozen, canned, or fresh isle of any local grocery store in the United States. However, if you’re bored of the usual fare, or are just in the mood for something more I encourage you to check out your local Farmer’s Market. In the height of summer, you will find interesting leafy green options that might pique your curiosity and encourage you to try new recipes and eat more leafy greens.
Here are four of the more interesting greens we’ve found at Manna from our local Farmer’s Market:
Arugula is a leafy green with a delicious peppery flavor. The smaller the leaves, the less bitter the taste. Arugula is great in salads, sandwiches, or as a raw topping on a pizza. Arugula is also an extremely hearty crop and can be grown at home by gardeners of all experience levels.
Bok Choy is a slightly bitter but mild vegetable and it is very popular in Asian countries. It’s easy to pair with a lot of strong flavors, which makes it great to add to a variety of recipes. It has thick, dark green leaves with crisp, juicy white stalks, and the entire plant is edible. It is best cooked by adding it to soups, stir-fried, or sauteéd.
Watercress is packed with flavor. It features hot peppery leaves and can add a kick to salads, soups, sauces. Throw watercress into your breakfast eggs, and it pairs beautifully. The hot peppery taste comes from the mustard oil in the plant. Watercress is also one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans.
Swiss Chard leaves are tender and have a taste like beet greens and spinach. These greens are vegetal in flavor than kale, and may be more palatable for some. The crunchy stems are slightly sweet and have a similar taste and texture with bok choy stems. Swiss Chard is fantastic sautéed in a pan with some butter, onions, and seasonings of your choice.
A diet with more dark leafy greens is better for your health and can encourage you to be more creative with your recipes. Whenever you can, make it a goal to eat greens at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Greens are extremely versatile so this shouldn’t be too hard. If you’re not a fan of salads, that’s ok. Try dark leafy greens in soups, pasta dishes, rice dishes, curries, and stews. If you’re someone or know someone who doesn’t like greens try looking for more variety. Consider preparing your greens in a different way or researching different kinds of dark leafy greens at your local farmer’s market. They may even let you try the greens raw right at the farmer’s stand! Many local farmer’s markets provide a great place to support local businesses and will even match EBT/SNAP dollars. Here is a great resource to discover more dark leafy greens: https://cuesa.org/article/farmers-market-guide-greens. Good luck with your green exploration!
4 Easily Ways to Add Greens into Your Daily Diet:
- Add something leafy and green (like kale or spinach) to a premade item like canned soups, delivery pizza, or even a frozen meal. The added greens will help increase the nutrient density of an otherwise lacking meal.
- Make breakfast green! Greens taste great inside of an omelet or mixed into your scrambled eggs in the morning. Add greens to your morning toast and top it sparingly with your favorite dressing.
- Make a green smoothie: add a large handful of spinach to a smoothie. You’ll notice the color and added nutrition, but not the flavor.
- Have a green snack. Heat up your oven and make some kale chips with your greens, oil, and salt. You’ll love how crispy and delicious greens can be.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Eat the Rainbow”? If you haven’t, the idea is that you consume foods, typically plant-based, which are the colors of the rainbow. The different colors have different nutrients and aligning health properties. The more colors you eat the better variety of nutrients you have to support your body and fight off illness. These nutrients are scientifically called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. These chemicals are said to be “…components of plants that are powerful defenders of health.”(IFM, 2015) Phytonutrients can be found in fruits and vegetables but also in whole grains, legumes, herbs, nuts, seeds, and even tea.
Let’s talk about colors, the way to identify the phytonutrients. As an “On-The-Go” culture, we typically eat tons of foods that are brown/white and have been stripped of nutrients. Nutrients are what make our body function. They are the nails to our house (body). If we don’t have enough nails, the house may still stay up but maintenance will be high because of lack of stability. This is some of the reasons we can have health issues because we’re not getting enough of nutrients to support ideal bodily functions. If we eat a variety of foods in an abundance of colors we supply our bodies with a diversity of nutrients to fulfill all of our body’s wants and needs.
Foods come in so many different colors— purple, orange, green, red, white, etc. Different colors, different phytonutrients, have different health properties. “Red foods contain phytonutrients that may help reduce the risk for certain cancers, along with helping to protect the brain, heart, liver, and immune system.” (IFM, 2015) Two of the most notable phytonutrients in red foods that help attribute to these health benefits are lycopene and anthocyanins.
Other colors have different phytonutrients that attribute to different health properties like orange. “Orange foods help protect the immune system, eyes, and skin, and reduce the risk for cancer and heart disease.” (IFM, 2015) The most notable of phytonutrients being beta-carotene and bioflavonoids.
So how can you start reaping the benefits of the many different phytonutrients? Eat the Rainbow. Make a goal of eating 1-2 servings of each color every day. It may sound difficult but it can be quite simple. Having a hardy salad may give you 1 serving of each color if not more in just one serving. Make a game for yourself and see how many colors you can eat in a day.
5 tips to include more colors into what you already eat.
- 1. Drink a smoothie with different colors. It can be easy to eat a variety of colors when you blend them all together in a delicious drink.
- 2. Use dips and sauces that contain plant-based color blends. For example salsa (one of my personal favorites) and pesto.
- 3. Switch from white potatoes (boring!) to sweet potatoes or mashed cauliflower.
- 4. Add red onions, peppers (red, yellow, orange, green), broccoli, tomatoes, and garlic to your eggs.
- 5. Spice up your food! Using spices like turmeric, basil, cayenne, and more can add great flavor, phytonutrients, and other herbal health benefits.
By Cynthia Wilson
Prior to my two-week rotation at Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland, I thought all food banks were the same. From what I’d seen in the past, they handed out canned goods, bags of rice, and ramen. That belief was permanently changed after my first hour at Manna. I began the day sorting huge crates of fresh produce from local farmers; potatoes, cucumbers, oranges, apples, strawberries, assorted greens, mangos, and much more. I discovered almost a dozen varieties of eggplant, squash, and tomatoes that I had no idea existed. Once the boxes were overflowing with colorful fruits and vegetables, it was time to begin distributing food to participants. While helping recipients load their food into cars, I was able to learn how critical the need is and how thankful people are to have this valuable resource in their community.
Along with a box of fruits and vegetables, participants leave Manna with a bag of frozen meat, a choice of bread items, and one “closed box” containing shelf-stable items. The closed box given to every participant doesn’t just contain a handful of randomly selected cans, but is composed of four to six cans of vegetables, one to three cans of fruit, at least one can of meat protein, multiple cans of beans or nuts, three containers of grains, bonuses such as soup, peanut butter, and other pantry staples like olive oil and mayonnaise. Each box contains around twenty items, which can be tailored for individual participants with particular nutrition needs. For example, patients with diabetes are given boxes containing items with less simple sugar, while vegetarian participants are given boxes that do not contain meat products.
During our time at Manna Food Center, fellow University of Maryland Dietetic Intern Stephanie Jean and I shadowed Registered Dietitian Jenna Umbriac and learned about how she uses her dietetics experience and education in her role as the Director of Programs & Policy. Jenna explained to us that the purpose of this organization is to fight hunger, reduce food waste, and improve health outcomes. We’ve kept that purpose in mind throughout the last two weeks, while we created tools and guides for Manna volunteers, staff, and participants.
We constructed new guides to help staff build food boxes for participants following a Kosher diet, as well as participants with diabetes who are following a vegetarian diet. We also made alterations to the vegetarian guides with instructions on how to make boxes fit a vegan diet. These guides will help expand the options for participants with specific dietary needs while saving staff and volunteer time constructing special boxes. We also designed and produced a Volunteer Produce ID Manual, which includes photos and names of many different varieties of fruit and vegetables, as well as information and recipes for Manna participants. This valuable resource will help volunteers identify unfamiliar produce, either by name or by image, and provide box recipients with tips for storage, preparation, and preservation, as well as recipes and nutrition facts. These tools will help reduce food waste and hunger, by providing participants with the knowledge and resources to incorporate the foods they receive into their diet, as well as improve health outcomes, by including items that fit with individual dietary needs.
Since arriving at Manna I’ve gained a sincere appreciation for the vital role of food assistance organizations, like Manna, play in helping food-insecure individuals. Manna Food Center keeps their community healthy, not hungry, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.
On September 12th we welcomed current and potential East County partners to our Community Kitchen Open House at Silver Spring United Methodist Church in Four Corners to hear about the adult classes we’re planning this Fall. Our 2 six-week class series, A Taste of African Heritage and A Taste of Latin Heritage, are designed to help participants learn health and nutrition through cooking and eating traditional and cultural foods in more nourishing ways.
Open House attendees included a past donor and representatives from organizations like Capital Area Food Bank, The Charles Koiner Center for Urban Farming, Montgomery County Food Council, Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church, Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, and Independence Now.
I facilitated a food demo and tasting of one of my favorite recipes from the curriculum, Pineapple, Mango and Papaya After-Chop Fruit Salad. The burst of flavors and ease of preparation inspired all to want to make this healthy dessert at home. Attendees also enjoyed samples of a Black Bean and Avocado Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette that will be part of the 6-week classes.
Everyone left the Open House nourished and fired up to help Manna spread the word within their networks about upcoming classes. It was wonderful to see organizations come together in the shared interest of community food education. I look forward to bringing partners together again in the Community Kitchen in the future!
Registration is now open for classes. A Taste of African Heritage runs Tuesdays, 2-4 pm, October 9 – November 13 and A Taste of Latin Heritage runs Thursdays, 2-4 pm, November 8 – December 20 (except November 22). Participants in the classes must be eligible to receive Manna Food Center services. To register, contact Madea Allen, Community Education Program Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jamal here. This fall, Angela Whitmal (our Senior Director of Administration and Participant Services) and I traveled to Tacoma, Washington to attend the Closing the Hunger Gap Conference. The goal of this conference is to move hunger relief organizations toward strategies that promote social justice and address the root causes of hunger, using the lens of racial and economic equity.
When I first went to Tacoma I was narrow-minded regarding some of our programs here at Manna, but, while away, I learned that ignorance is not bliss–especially if you want to truly cure the ails of a society where the have-nots continue to get less and the haves continue to get more.
As I listened to the different speakers talk about the same battles they face in their states, cities, towns that I fight here in Montgomery County, I realized there are a lot of agencies trying to do the right thing but facing the same stumbling blocks: lack of money, lack of man power and a lack of time to get all they want to do get done and still have time for their own lives. I listened to people come up with ideas that we are currently implementing. Which was very encouraging as well as a having a sense of pride, knowing were heading in the right direction.
There was a conversation started about whether it was ethically right to receive monies from Walmart, a cooperation notorious for not paying its store employees enough money to sustain their families. As the Warehouse Manager, I saw myself wanting the food they donate because the food was either going to a land fill or to a needy family, but this was something I never considered. As a youth of the 80s, and the crack epidemic, I watched a lot of young men sell drugs to line their pockets as well as provide for their families, but am I any different then the parent turning the blind eye so bills can get paid while at the same time taking out an insurance policy on my child so in case of death we can now get out the ghetto?
A recurring phrase used was Social Justice. Are we doing enough to help end the cycle that causes families to need our services, or are we part of the cycle of poverty and hunger another part of the machine that like the pharmaceutical / health care industry instead of teaching people how to better their lives through diet and exercise we offer a drug that seems to address the problem while instead causing several others. Are we a placebo? Are we helping to end hunger or continuing the cycle?
I believe now that we do have a larger responsibility to the public then just feeding them. We do need to educate helping those that might not know about the other resources in MoCo, besides Manna Food Center, by putting them in contact with those that can help them get job training, English classes, educational funding, child care and health care if needed as well as many others.
The Social Justice piece encompasses a lot of things in my eyes seeing to the needs of those that don’t have the courage, strength, knowledge, monies to get the help they need to live the life we all deserve. And I believe we at Manna do this daily:
- The drivers get up at the crack of dawn to go out to the stores, farmers markets, synagogues, churches or where ever there is food to be picked up to make sure that it is brought back here and sorted and distributed by volunteers and employees working together to make sure people like their own family get the best.
- A nutrition team helps to draft guidelines and programs advising us and the public on healthier food choices so that those foods they eat aren’t 0 calorie’s but nutritious so they can perform the duties on their jobs and in the class rooms to advance to get them out of the cycle of poverty.
- The development team drafts up grants while also stirring the hearts and minds of donors that might not ever see the people they help, retrieving monies from grants and funds to help pay for the day to day up keep of the facility.
- The volunteer coordinator who helps to bring in a steady supply of help that works for no more than the knowledge of that but for the grace of God there goes I.
- A referral office that takes calls for both requests and complaints ensuring that the participant feels like more than another hand out, but their voice is heard like the voice at the Wegmans complaining about the Organic Strawberries being too bruised.
We can do more, and we will do more, because like those 600+ I walked and talked with in Tacoma: we care, and the job will get done.
If this is a conversation you want to join, consider attending one of our monthly Breaking Bread sessions. Manna creates space and intentional conversations to nurture dialogue around critical issues, such as race, class, and a culture of dependency, that create or contribute to hunger in our community. We hope you will join the conversation on the third Wednesday of every month from 4 – 5:30pm at Manna Food Center, 9311 Gaither Rd., Gaithersburg MD 20895. Questions? Contact Angela Whitmal at 240-268-2527 or email@example.com.
Lindsey here. September marks Family Meals Month, encouraging people to set aside time at least a few days a week to convene the family around a home-cooked meal. Research shows that when families eat together, it’s better for kids’–and parents’–emotional well-being, performance, and diet.
The simplest way to ensure a nourishing meal is to step back and look at the whole plate: do the foods on it have at least three (naturally-occurring) colors? A color-filled plate is an easy way to determine you’re providing an array of vitamins and minerals.
What if I told you that I witnessed 16 kids, ages 8-10, gobble up raw peppers, avocado, and black beans and come back for third helpings? It happened this summer on Manny the Mobile Kitchen.
Too little time?
Get kids to help. They can stir, grate, pour, mix, tear, wash, toss, set the table, and clean up as you go along.
Worried about picky eaters?
Taking a little something familiar (like a low-salt tortilla chip) is a great way for kids to try new flavors and textures. It certainly worked with this simple, wholesome recipe from Common Threads.
Too much work?
Make a taco bar! Everyone can pile this wholesome salsa onto their chicken, fish, whole-grain tortilla, or brown rice (hint: instant brown rice cooks perfectly and helps weeknights). Each eater customizes, they can sprinkle on their own scallions, shredded cheese, plain yogurt, chili flakes, etc. That way, each person at the table can decide which foods they want touching.
Prioritize time together, and keep meals happy. Use the time to focus on the positive, and what interests kids. Include them in discussions about your community, get their take on the news. If you’re stuck, here’s a few ideas:
- If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
- If we could go anywhere you wanted on vacation, where would you choose? Why?
- When do you feel the most proud of who you are?
Black Bean Mango Salsa
from Common Threads, kid approved!
Lindsey’s trick: frozen mango is ripe, affordable, and pre-chopped
- 15 ounces black beans
- 1 mango
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1/3 red onion
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 2 lime
- 1 large avocado
Lindsey here. Once upon a time, Manny the Mobile Kitchen was a humble school bus, toting 72 kiddos to and from school. He looked like this.
These days, this school bus is taking kids’ taste buds through the rainbow of wholesome foods.
Sixteen youth at Gaithersburg Elementary participated in the pilot program aboard our Manna Mobile Kitchen. We partnered with Common Threads to implement their program, Small Bites, an eight-day class that teaches kids the basics of nutrition in a way that integrates science experiments, reading, and math. For the second half of the class, students engage in hands-on, knife-free food prep making healthy snacks.
Dishes included Strawberry-Pineapple Agua Fresca (as an alternative to soda), Mango-Lime Yogurt Parfaits, Sneaky Green Smoothies, and Mango Salsa.
Along with a team of enthusiastic volunteers, we also integrated fitness activities and trying new foods with bell pepper tastings and seed tastings.
By far the most popular dish was our roasted cauliflower! One parent shared how she and her daughter went to the store together to purchase cauliflower after this particular class. She even got her big brother (13) to try and enjoy roasted cauliflower, too.
Manny the Mobile Kitchen will also serve as a Pop-Up Pantry to bring fresh produce to underserved neighborhoods. I hope you’ll join us for an opportunity to visit this special new addition to Manna. Climb aboard to enjoy the culinary classroom experience for yourself, plus a tasty sample, on Saturday September 16th. Details here. Hope to see you there!
Lindsey here. For four years I’ve worked in Nutrition Education at Manna. It’s also how long, before that, I applied for job after job, competing with more experienced colleagues who lost their careers in the Recession.
My role here is rooted in the community; I’m on-the-go to schools, senior apartments, and community centers most days of the week. My classes have grandmothers and grandchildren, veterans and students—I receive both stories and hugs.
In these four years, the Nutrition Education workshops evolve with the concerns of our community: as I hear complaints about deceptive advertisements, we develop a new “Nutrition Fact or Fiction” class. As more and more adults share their confusion over this new “prediabetic” diagnosis, we created a two-part series on habits to hinder diabetes and chronic disease. We talk about small, practical steps that make sense in a busy, budgeted lifestyle: walking and dancing with your kids, drinking fruit-infused water, purchasing wholesome foods (oats, onions, carrots) in bulk—to last beyond the week.
In a span of two days, I was reminded: people here are hungry. Participants are tired, frustrated, worried, too–that’s easier to see. Hunger is not always so visible in America, few people standing in line for food assistance appear severely underweight.
In my most recent Cooking Matters at the Store grocery tour, a participant had to sit down for the second half of the class because she was so dizzy. In conversation, I learned that she had not eaten since a bagel at breakfast—seven hours earlier—because she ran out of food at home. Over some fresh watermelon, we discussed unit prices and nutrition labels on the store’s front park bench.
The next day, a woman called to sign up for a store tour. I asked how she was doing today—a question I’ve learn to ask with patient pause in this work. She lost half of her pension when retiring for health issues, so she practices gratitude, but struggles with logistics of getting-by. She was called into work for the same time as my upcoming nutrition class. She truly considered calling out of work just to attend a class about how to stretch a grocery budget.
We hear more about hunger in the news, but in terms of numbers. It’s not “the needy”; it’s our neighbors in need.
In these four years, I find the amazement of people who step into our warehouse never ceases–the scale of this work is often surprising. If you are able, I invite you to volunteer with Manna, even for just a day. These stories could belong to any of us.
We know from Montgomery County’s Food Security Plan that families are not accessing or consuming enough vegetables. As you likely know, vegetables really drive Nutrition Education:
Manna’s Mobile Kitchen & Pop-Up Pantry is a new program designed to tackle two barriers at once by bringing nutritious foods and cooking skills to our community. The MMK is an extension of Manna’s focus on innovative, participant-centered approaches to eliminating hunger.
Programming will encourage increased fruit and vegetable consumption, greater acceptance of new, nutritious foods, and encourage lifelong skills like math and teamwork. Our pilot program starting this July utilizes Common Threads Small Bites curriculum, which ties youth culinary skills to Common Core academic skills.
Here’s where the kids will be cooking:
Our participants often faced transportation barriers to accessing licensed community kitchens where Manna taught classes in the past. We will travel to high-need schools and apartment complexes to teach youth, seniors, and adults at risk of food insecurity.
Upon finalizing permits and exterior wrap designs, the MMK will begin community programming in July 2017.
How can I get involved?
This innovative new program will depend on generous support from the community to fund outreach moving forward.
Corporate Sponsorship opportunities are available. Click here for details.
This school year the MMK will offer educational opportunities to some of the 30,000 elementary students in the Montgomery County Public Schools eligible for free and reduced meals. Our culinary classroom on wheels is an innovative solution to increase access to nutrition education and nutritious foods in Montgomery County.
Mike here, I am a Dietetic Intern completing my rotation at Manna Food Center.
One of the great things that Manna does in the community is teach nutrition education classes. I was able to participate in one of these lessons today: The class is “Sugar Shockers” and I can definitely say I was shocked. It wasn’t the content of the lesson, but the responses from participating mothers. Lindsey regularly holds this class at local elementary schools for families in the Linkages to Learning program, many of whom also participate in Smart Sacks.
The lesson detailed sugar in common foods like soft drinks, juices, and breakfast cereals. It also covered how sugar reacts in the body and what health problems can result from eating too much sugar. These aren’t new concepts in my field of study, but I realized that it’s easy to take for granted the things you know. Some of these concepts were brand new for a lot of the mothers. It was heartbreaking to see their reactions to some of the information. It was as if they had been lied to about what is healthy for their entire lives. They became very concerned about how much sugar their children have been eating every day.
Something that I thought was interesting was that nearly all of the mothers said that they thought honey was healthier than sugar. While honey may be natural and have other potential benefits, the body uses it the same way it uses sugar from a packet. Too much honey results in the same problems as too much sugar.
We also talked about how fruit juice isn’t as healthy as eating fresh fruit because when you eat fresh fruit, you get a lot of fiber that helps make you feel full. Eating one or two oranges is plenty for most people. However, with juice, you don’t get the fiber, but you get all the sugar. One glass of orange juice may contain eight or nine oranges worth of sugar. While oranges are definitely a healthy food, eating nine oranges at once is just too much for one person. This was another concept that seemed to really upset some of the mothers. Many of their children drink multiple glasses of juice per day because parents thought the juice had equal health benefits of fruit.
Near the end of the lesson, we did an activity in which we read the nutrition facts label on several products and identified how many grams of sugar were in a single serving. Then we counted out how many sugar packets it takes to get that much sugar. One packet of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon, which is 4 grams of sugar. One of the mothers had a 12 ounce can of ginger ale that contained 32 grams of sugar. That’s 8 teaspoons of sugar in a single can! The World Health Organization advises the maximum daily intake for added sugar is 6 teaspoons for women, 9 teaspoons for men, and 4 teaspoons for children.
From the many questions throughout the lesson, and it was obvious that participants had received poor nutrition advice, whether from friends, family, magazines, radio, or television. This is why the nutrition education that Manna provides is so important. People want to make healthy choices, so it’s important that we help dispel the myths about nutrition and provide the information necessary to make those healthy choices.
Lindsey here. While life is in full swing here at Manna’s warehouse, there have been remarkable opportunities to share Manna’s work with professionals across the country (and the world) this March.
Last week, I published a post about the 5 most interesting breakthroughs in health tips that I learned from experts at the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ conference. Check out that post here.
I have been a member of the International Association of Culinary Professional for three years now. In 1978, a group of cooking school owners and instructors, including Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, created the IACP (formerly named the Association of Cooking Schools), and in the process, they laid a foundation for food culture in America and beyond. Now IACP’s membership includes writers, photographers, stylists, bloggers, marketers, nutritionists, chefs, restaurateurs, culinary tour operators, artisan food producers, and academia.
Last year, I had the honor to serve as a cookbook judge for the Children, Youth, Family cookbooks submitted to the IACP’s distinguished Cookbook Awards. This year, for the 39th annual conference, I was selected as a speaker for the first evening’s workshops. See, I noticed that the allure of food and cooking united this engaging group of professionals—but who was talking about the millions around us without enough food for the week ahead?
This observation inspired my IACP colleague and I to create a workshop: Using Our Culinary Expertise For Good. Ellen Damaschino is the Program Manager of Cooking Matters, a vital program in Manna’s Nutrition Education outreach. Ellen is working on the national level, training Americorp volunteers on teaching grocery shopping and cooking skills to families living on a low-income. I covered work happening here in Montomgery County: from our own nutrition education programming, to Community Food Rescue and Farm to Foodbank.
The 3 biggest surprises from our session:
Hunger touches more lives than you might expect.
Ellen and I shared some ways that our organizations fight hunger in the community—both at the personal and the policy level. We then asked our session participants to answer some questions we posted around the room. Our participants included owners of distinguished culinary schools, chefs, writers, and representatives from big food corporations. This response surprised me the most:
People are so eager to give back, but just don’t know how.
Prior to the conference, Ellen and I surveyed the 50 attendees registered for our session about what hinders them from helping those affected by hunger. We found common, and some unexpected, themes in the responses.
It’s all about the small steps.
We found that this group of talented, accomplished, and driven colleagues were indeed eager to make a difference. We didn’t need to spend time explaining how or why hunger is simply wrong. We did find that most people are paralyzed by the notion of taking the “right” first step. So we asked our groups to brainstorm what they could do within their means and resources and availability—and sent them them off with small action steps to take home. Feel free to check out our resource guide, and consider your own inspiration to get involved.
Lindsey here. Who’s heard this before:
“I was a vegetarian… for a week.”
“I gave up soda for the New Year… for the month.”
“I’m trying to lose weight. So I’m giving up pasta for the summer.”
Healthy intentions so often take the form of cutting out an entire food group—cold turkey, if you will. If you have ever tried a diet, you know how hard it is to stick it out for the long haul. Small steps are a sustainable way to add healthy foods to our plates. Plus, recent research shows that yo-yo dieting can actually increase a woman’s risk of heart disease.
In Manna’s nutrition education classes, I like to say that a “diet” is not a thing to do, but a way of living and eating. This message aligns well with the theme of 2017’s National Nutrition Month. “Put Your Best Fork Forward” is all about how significant those small steps are over time. Small changes like adding an additional serving of vegetables, or switching out juices for water, are easier to implement daily—and improve your health over time.
Put Your Best Fork Forward reminds us that each bite counts. Those small adjustments can add up over time.
I have the opportunity to interact with Manna’s families in our classes throughout the county. (In fact, in March, we are travelling to 17 classes!) The question I receive every month in these community nutrition workshops is, “If so many of these boxed foods are dangerously high in sodium and sugar, why does Manna have these foods at all?” This is why our healthy wishlist is so important. The families I meet each week at the grocery store and elementary schools are also trying to take steps towards better health. But when meal funds are uncertain, unhealthy canned soups and pasta meal kits are cheap choices. Healthy pantry items like beans, brown rice, canned salmon, nuts, seeds, and spices build healthy, frugal meals.
You can help Manna’s participants put their best fork forward by encouraging your neighbors, schools, and faith communities to donate wholesome pantry items.
Wishing you good luck in your own journey of healthy eating, and spreading gratitude to the community that makes healthy eating accessible here at Manna.
Lindsey here. Last week, I was a guest speaker at the International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference in Lousiville, Kentucky. Next week, I’ll be back to share how we intertwined Manna’s work with nationwide hunger-fighting efforts.
At IACP, I had the opportunity to learn about the latest in health, eating, and feeding from professionals all over the globe.
Here are five fascinating takeaways from the pros
one: White flour has the nutritional value of a Q-tip.
I am always seeking a clear way to teach our families about the nutrition (or lack of) in white flour. Unfortunately, cookies, cakes, crackers, white bread, pretzels, etc. are cheap and abundant. If we’re looking to fuel our bodies for energy, focus, and wellness, white flour has little to contribute. I love this easy phrase!
two: Hunger is not a production issue. It’s economic, political, and infrastructure.
This was uttered by a grain farmer at a workshop called “Can Heritage Grains Actually Feed the World?” Of course, this question does not have a straightforward yes or no answer. However, this statement is a powerful reminder of how much capability, and responsibility, we have to feed our neighbors. By which I mean nourish our neighbors, not bombard vulnerable families with excess bakery leftovers (see number one, above).
three: Health should be more contagious than disease.
Dr. Peter Swanz, a physician and Doctor of Naturopathy, had much to share about the hottest words in food (epigenetics, nutrigenetics and the microbiome). While there were a lot of multi-syllabic science terms, health still comes down to some important basics. Dr. Swanz said: Nutrition is only one piece of our health. Make sleep, exercise, and drinking filtered water priorities, too. Exercise actually increases healthy bacteria in the gut.
four: Beware of the “Eat like me, look like me” trend.
One of the most engaging workshops was about navigating nutrition on the web. Consumers are distrusting experts more and more, and research shows the public views their peers equally credible when it comes to health advice. Pete Evans, pictured here, actually had a book recalled because the Paleo food he recommended for infants was in fact lethal advice! How to spot red flags when you’re reading a health headline: is it published? is it too good to be true? is it heavy on testimonials? is there only one study to support the statement? Here is a great watchdog website to handle all those health headlines.
five: We are only 1% human.
You read that right. Our bodies are comprised of ten times more microbial cells than our own human cells. There are approximately 100 times more bacterial genes playing a role in your life than there are human genes. We are 99% bacteria! Here’s the take-home message from the latest research: to increase your microbiome diversity, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and exercise made the most difference. Organically grown or not, replacing processed food with any vegetables is the most important step.
Come back to the blog next week to see Manna’s good work represented in Louisville.
Did you know that February has been American Heart Health month since 1964?
You have likely observed that nutrition advice has varied in the decades from then to today, but there are some things that never change. Here are some heart-healthy refrains from our Nutrition Education classes:
- Strive for at least 3 different colored foods at every meal
- Make half your plate veggies, and then fruits
- Move more (walking, dancing, taking the stairs–exercise is free!)
- Drink water, and then drink some more
- Frozen produce is as healthy as fresh, and sometimes much more affordable
We can’t control our genetics, but the great news is that most of the ways to protect our heart are things over which we do have control: stop smoking; sit less; move more; lessen the meats and sweets.
Here are some shots of the open boxes Manna distributed this week. Abundant color is an easy way to spot heart-healthy choices!
Ben and Tuesday here. I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “Wait, who?” We are dietetic interns at the University of Maryland College Park, and we’ve had the privilege to spend the past two weeks at Manna Food Center. Throughout our rotation, we have gotten to experience many different aspects of what is done at Manna. We attended Breaking Bread, created handouts, observed nutrition education sessions, researched a variety of topics, and volunteered in the warehouse.
I’m going to take a minute to brag about the awesome staff at Manna. It’s obvious that they all love their jobs and put their heart into their work to make life better for others in their community. They are constantly coming up with
ways to better the organization for their participants’ sakes. It’s the simple things that stood out the most to me. For example, Manna does the best they can to accommodate special food needs. They pack special vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and renal boxes to ensure that they food they are given out will actually be used by their clients. Another instance of this was when I observed a diabetes and chronic disease prevention nutrition education class. Lindsey is constantly changing her curriculum to meet the needs of the participants. She makes sure to use positive messaging that is appropriate for people of all different cultures and walks of life. All in all, I found it heartwarming and refreshing to see people so invested in the work and mission of their organization.
What I first noticed when I walked through the doors of Manna was everyone’s contagious desire to serve those in need. As we were given a tour of the warehouse, we met people who have been volunteering with Manna each week for the past several years. What keeps these volunteers coming back year after year was the visible effect fighting food insecurity had on their community. The warehouse is the primary site for the Smart Sacks initiative, a program that packs boxes with nutritious food for children who might not have another meal until school is back in session. Manna’s servitude extends beyond the warehouse with its Nutrition Education programs. The elite nutrition education professionals of Manna venture out into the community and teach topics such as chronic disease prevention, added sugars, and shopping tips and techniques.
I was able to channel this mindset of service by partaking in one of Manna’s weekly distribution days. During the first half of a distribution day, we sorted through produce and pre-prepared foods saved through the Community Food Rescue Program, ensuring the item’s quality are suitable for participants. We then packed the produce and rescued goods into open boxes and created bags of meat for participants. During the latter half of the day, patrons came to receive a non-perishable box of food, an open-box of produce, a bag of meat, and their choice of available breads and pastries. These items were loaded up and delivered to the clients. Truth be told, the day seemed long but it was very rewarding, especially after seeing the gratitude expressed by participants. Although my time spent at Manna was short, I can say that I have caught their infectious spirit for serving the community. I highly encourage everyone to take a few hours out of his or her day and volunteer with Manna Food Center.
Lindsey here. A theme of conversation these days among Manna staff, particularly in our Breaking Bread conversations, is privilege. There are so many ways the privilege of time and leisure come into our health. A recent article about privilege and personal responsibility (a worthy read, check it out) reminded me that there are unexpected ways this luxury appears in eating well.
Naturally, an important step in nutritious eating is cooking at home—I share this in every class I lead. But the time to read about healthy foods, shop for those foods (assuming they fit in your budget), prep and cook is not a priority everyone can afford.
Even keeping up with accurate news can feel like yet another thing on top of a busy working family’s to-do list. One simple way to empower our families at Manna with healthy steps that are possible now is providing nutrition information in our lobby literature racks. Waiting in line to pick up food often offers our families an opportunity to read—so I added this handy list to our lobby today.
8 Great Ways to Live Healthier and Save Money Doing It
adapted from U.S. News and World Report, August 2015 by Lindsey Seegers
- ONE Plan your groceries before you go to the store.
Check out the food in your fridge and your pantry to see what meal makers you have on-hand. Make a list and stick to it at the store—a handy way to avoid overbuying at the store and wasting food at home.
- TWO Drink water.
Buying sodas, coffees and smoothies on the go is costly for your wallet and your health. That money you save can go towards wholesome groceries. Water is free (especially if you take a reusable bottle with you to refill)!
- THREE Eat less meat.
Meat can often be the most expensive item on our grocery bills. Varying your protein purchases can stretch your shopping budget further, and provide more nutrients for your body. Foods like legumes, peanuts, nuts, grains and seeds offer your body protein, too, and often for less money.
- FOUR Discovery free ways to move more.
Finding the time and energy to exercise can be challenge. Ever harder—those expensive fitness gyms! Walking with your kids, friends, or dog is a free way to get more steps in the day. If the weather isn’t nice enough to be out, you can dance, stretch, climb stairs, and move more indoors, too.
- FIVE Kick the habit.
Cutting out cigarettes immediately puts money back in your wallet, not to mention the benefits your body enjoys. Cutting back on alcohol, or other substances, can to save your money and save your life.
- SIX Catch up on an active date.
Everyone can afford to be more active, and it doesn’t have to cost money. Spend time with your loved ones (friends, too!) by taking a walk, hike, or even renting a canoe. Research shows that relationships can influence a person’s health and wellness decisions.
- SEVEN Follow the doctor’s orders.
Cancelling a doctor’s visit or skipping medicine saves you money right now. But following through on preventative care can save you expensive hospital visits. Avoiding the doctor can mean expensive consequences to your health and your budget later on.
- EIGHT Mind your mental health.
Mental health and happiness are important. Neglecting psychological issues, such as depression, can make it challenging to work. Ignoring mental health can also increase the risk of suffering chronic health conditions. Besides seeing a doctor, the tips listed above can also improve mood and happiness!
These tips might not be new, but certainly provided an important reminder to me to consider self-care. Post this list on your fridge, pass along to a friend, or come grab a copy yourself next time you pop over to our warehouse to donate or volunteer.
Ethan Kach stopped by last week with a handcrafted gift for Manna. Two in fact.
Ethan first learned about Manna Food Center through the Boy Scouts’ participation in “Scouting For Food”. Ethan walked door to door the past four years for this annual food drive. Once a neighbor asked Ethan to volunteer in our warehouse for an evening of packing food boxes and he finally got to see Manna behind-the-scenes. “I was very impressed with the warehouse in how organized everything was, the amount of food that gets collected, and how many people are there to help provide food for the hungry.”
For his Eagle Scout project, Ethan came up with the idea to host a food drive, and build two custom carts for Manna. He met with our Operations team last year and saw the need for moving boxes, food, and supplies throughout our warehouse. You will see in the photo that Ethan included rubber bumpers on the corners of the cart to protect our walls–how considerate of you, Ethan! He also added a handle, a drawer for storage, and a space below measured to perfectly store our flat-packed boxes.
We plan to feature these carts at our sites like Colesville Presbyterian Church and Silver Spring United Methodist–they will be perfect for food demonstrations and nutrition lessons.
Ethan has been working for five years to reach the honor of Eagle Scout. Completing this project inches Ethan closer to his goal, and gifts Manna with a physical reminder of the kindness of our community.
Lindsey here. Here is what I observed in three consecutive minutes at Manna this week:
Mark Mills, a chocolatier, professional chef, and, oh yes, full-time farmer at Chocolate and Tomatoes farm, pulls up to Manna in his pick up truck, bearing gifts: coolers and crates overflow with freshly picked collard greens, cucumbers, jalapeños and even fresh ginger. 648 pounds of fresh food for the families lined up in our lobby.
In the referral office, all five phones are active, three volunteers and our own Yelba and Silvia signing up clients to pick up Manna food boxes. In the summer, more children wait in line with their parents, sitting on the floor or their mommy’s laps. Over the cacophony of ringing-beeping-faxing-talking-printing cries a baby in the lobby. Not a whimper, a long heart-wrenching hungry cry. The crying crescendos over all the bustling of the lobby and referral office.
The open boxes, brimming with local produce, sit in a line waiting to go home. Our clients sit and stand in line for noon to approach, when distribution starts—though cabs and buses dropped off some men and women nearly two hours before. Despite the wait in this heat, despite the anxiety of carting home these heavy food packages (sometimes down the sidewalk with an actual cart), every person in line bestows a generous offer. You see, the baby crying—a curly-headed girl, 5 weeks small and barely filling out her diaper—is cradled in the arms of her mother. Her mother, who stands at the very end of a line now curled around Manna’s modest lobby to avoid the heat. So when Yelba steps out of the referral office to greet our clients and ask if Mom and Baby can get their food first today, everyone joyfully agrees. And, smiling, they move their chairs and bodies to make room for her stroller.
Witnessing this gesture was beautiful. But this moment of generosity is not uncommon: the giving that happens here is not just from Manna’s staff and volunteers. Unselfish hospitality abounds in this place.
Lindsey here. This time of year, the open food boxes we distribute to clients are overflowing with local produce. It’s a beautiful sight: plump tomatoes and bouquets of kale tucked between varieties of purple, white and wee green eggplants. These fruits and veggies travel home alongside foods that our drivers rescue from grocery stores each day. Greek yogurt, cheeses, salad makings and cut fruit provide meals with foods that—if not rescued from grocery stores overturning inventory—would have gone to the trash.
Sometimes food waste seems obvious: perfectly edible, whole ingredients tossed from shelf to garbage. But there is another way food that costs our money and time ends up needlessly wasted. Have you ever brought home a head of broccoli and plucked off the florets only? Or found yourself stumped over the stems of leafy greens and cooked only the tops? When it comes to plants, unnecessary waste can happen when we’re not sure if all the parts are edible and what on earth to do with them.
Take this vibrant rainbow chard for example. The prettiest part is the sunset-hued stems, right? But many recipes call only for the leaves. Did you know the stems can be sliced and stir fried, with the leaves added in at the end? The same goes for greens tops (turnip, beet, kohlrabi, collard, or mustard greens); these can be easily braised with garlic and crushed red chili flakes.
You can also switch up your chickpea hummus with chard stalks! In the Mediterranean, chard stalks are boiled and pureéd with garlic, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice for a savory dip.
The most important part of these techniques and know-how—beyond the environmental and good-feeling part of salvaging edible food—is that food stretches further. This is critical when families leave Manna with a 3-5 day supply of food and need those ingredients to make multiple meals. It’s why we provide recipes and cooking tips to our clients.
Want to make the most of your farmers market purchases this summer? Check out these great reads below. While you’re at the market, come visit a Manna table (look for the bright red tablecloth) at farmers markets all over Montgomery County!
Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable by Tara Duggan (have this on my shelf!)
The Southern Vegetable Book: A Root-to-Stalk Guide to the South’s Favorite Produce by Rebecca Lang
Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons by Steven Satterfield
Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom by Deborah Madison
Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money By Wasting Less Food by Dana Gunders
Lindsey here. Something special about Manna is that we promote “caring for those who care”. If you’ve ever served in a caregiving capacity for a loved one, you know that the caretaker’s own well-being is not always a priority. Likewise, at Manna we are bustling around in the business of distributing food each day—the need is always urgent. Stopping for a wholesome lunch or brisk walk doesn’t feel as pressing.
It’s why we started MORE at Manna, a program to encourage wellness among our Manna teammates. MORE stands for Movement, yOur health, Relaxation, and Education. For two years, we’ve invited dietitians, boxing instructors, fitness pros, and yoga teachers to join our staff for interactive “Lunch and Learn” sessions. We also run staff-wide competitions for most steps, drinking water, and eating more fruits and veggies. Last month, Jenna and I hosted a 21-day “Eat the Rainbow” Challenge.
Did you know that eating all colors of fruits and vegetables give our bodies maximum nutrients? Each color of fruit and vegetables provides unique, essential health benefits. We challenged our colleagues to eat at least one serving of produce from every color every day! Next week, we celebrate the winners. (One staff member ate 211.5 servings of produce in 21 days!)
How many colors have you enjoyed today?
Lindsey here. I’ve been teaching healthy budget shopping with the Cooking Matters at the Store program for the three years I’ve been Manna’s Nutrition Educator. The questions that arise week after week are, sadly, the same: “I was just diagnosed with Type II diabetes, what can I eat now?”
In response to this question, I developed a new class for Manna called “Habits to Hinder Diabetes and Chronic Disease”. I teach this class at agencies throughout Montgomery County. This week alone, I’ve taught the workshop to over 60 individuals at senior apartment complexes and the Wells-Robertson House. The refrain of this class is that Type II diabetes can be controlled, and—best of all—prevented and potentially reversed. There is so much bad news about diabetes, a diagnosis that can be frustrating, confusing, and maddening. So I set out to create an uplifting workshop that highlights the ways we can take control over our health. One of those is to gradually transition our eating habits from those abundant meats and sweets to more beans and greens. But informed food choices are only one piece of prevention.
Here are the four healthy habits we discuss at the end of the workshop (adapted from The End of Diabetes by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.):
1. Make a commitment to yourself.
Write down your health goal and share with valued people in your life. Rather than thinking “I’m on a diet”, consider the choices you are making towards your own health and positive well-being. This isn’t about deprivation, it’s about the good care you’re giving yourself. Indulgent comfort-food may provide a momentary boost, but the most pleasure in life comes from more meaningful achievements. Each day of healthier food choices brings you closer to improving your health.
2. Track your progress.
Keep a notebook in a place you’ll see it (next to the bed, in the pantry). At least twice weekly: log foods, (and beverages!) and exercise. Even if it’s not the precise amount, paint a picture of the food variety in your day. A variety of color is key. If you have diabetes, track your blood sugar and medications too. Write down your movement, how long and vigorous the exercise. Tracking your progress and success can be a powerful motivator—you’ve got the data to show for all your hard work!
3. Switch up your pantry.
Keep bulk items around. The store brand plain oatmeal, bag of carrots and onions, and one pound of brown rice are inexpensive (versatile and nutritious!) items that stretch your food throughout the month. Avoid purchasing foods that are pre-seasoned and flavored. With items like canned soups or high-sodium packaged foods, combine with fresh, frozen, or no-salt added items to add more fiber to the dish and decrease the sodium per serving.
Exercise is the very best prescription to protect our health. Medication does not replace the need to (or lifelong benefits) eat well and move more. The benefits are vast, supporting the musculoskeletal system, digestion, heart and blood vessels, and even mental function! This doesn’t have to be long distance running: even standing up from a chair and sitting back down for 5 straight minutes gets the heart pumping.
If you know an agency serving families with low-income that may be interested in this class, contact Lindsey at Lindsey@mannafood.org
Check out this refreshing salad. I grew it. My name is Lindsey Seegers and I am not a master gardener. In fact, I wouldn’t even call myself a gardener: I’m terrified of worms, everything outside makes me sneeze, and I have only two gardening tools. Not even decent gardening gloves.
But guess what? I grow my own food. And it’s delicious. There is something so satisfying about the flavor and sense of accomplishment (in the order of your choosing). You can totally do this, too.
Manna partners with farms and farmers markets to offer our families more fresh produce during the growing season. Think how much you love juicy summer tomatoes and crispy vegetables. These seasonal luxuries are just as prized for our clients, but often financially out of reach.
How can you help? Grow a Row for Manna! You can grow a small garden no matter your space. I have assorted, inexpensive plastic pots that hang out on my back steps all summer. Thanks to direct sunlight, there’s not a lot of work me for to do besides water and watch.
This year, I’m growing kale, chard, strawberries, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and herbs of all kinds. If I (averse to worms and pollen) can do it, you can too!
Here are some fantastic tips from Maryland’s Gardening Network:
- PLANTS NEED DIRECT SUNLIGHT. Tomatoes and peppers need at least 6 hour of direct sun. Herbs, lettuces, kale, collards, and beans need at least 4 hours.
- WATER THE SOIL WHEN IT IS DRY. Every day, push your finger one inch into the soil. If the soil is dry, slowly add water until it runs out the bottom of the pot. Water twice a day in very hot weather.
- PICK AND EAT THE VEGETABLES! Pick the vegetables as soon as they are ripe. Picking them makes the plants grown more.
If you have extra, bring your homegrown produce to our Gaithersburg warehouse. Happy Harvest!
Lindsey here. I just returned from Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood: the locale of this year’s conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals. There were wonderful surprises on my trip, including a memorable conversation around Nigerian cuisine with my cab driver, Joseph.
I also met some food heroes of mine, Marion Nestle and Lynne Rossetto Kasper. I missed out on autographs, but the opportunity for conversation over dinner was even better. Rather than share about themselves (or their amazing books and radio shows), theirs was a mutual chorus praising Manna’s work, especially nutrition education, as the most important kind of work food lovers can share.
Beyond workshops about why cooking matters to kids today, the food retail revolution, and the future of cooking lessons, I spent my first conference day touring Melissa’s Produce. Melissa’s is the country’s leading distributor of specialty produce. On the East Coast, we buy their fruits and veggies in stores like Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Wegmans. Our Manna drivers rescue food from these stores each week, meaning that Melissa’s produce rotating out of grocery store inventory is likely making its way to Manna boxes. This food rescue provides our clients with wholesome fresh veggies, and also reduces food waste.
My visit to Melissa’s California warehouse included perusing 1,500 different varieties of fruits and vegetables! In this tour, I learned the birds and the bees of foods that grow on trees…
Four Things This Foodie Did NOT Know About Fruits and Veggies
1. Males look great in purple
Eggplant is easily my favorite vegetable, I love how versatile it is. It can be creamy, smoky, or crispy—depending how you cook it. Newbies to eating eggplant often complain about the bitter taste, and, boy oh boy, is there an easy way to get around that! The male eggplant has a very small, round scar on the round base of the vegetable; this has less seeds and is less bitter. The female eggplant has a larger, sometimes longer scar, with more seeds: more bitter. If you’re new to eggplant, try cooking a male eggplant.
2. The bumpier the better
Bell peppers are a different story. If you want the sweetest pepper—think of those NO BOYS ALLOWED signs from middle school—look for the sweet females. Female peppers have four (or more!) bumps; they are sweeter with more seeds, and great for eating raw. Male peppers have three bumps: less seeds and less sweet. Male peppers are better for cooking.
3. A rose is a rose
You know how some things in life have different names for the same item? Water closet, washroom, loo, powder room, lavatory—we know it’s the same destination. But did you know that the tangerine, clementine, and mandarin orange is the very same fruit? This rocked my world.
4. Go give it a squeeze
Mangoes have the most beautiful hues, from tropical greens to sunny yellows and oranges. Though mangoes are the most popular fruit worldwide, many of us look at these colors for ripeness. However, like a peach, tender flesh + fruity fragrance is the real way to determine if your mango is ready to enjoy.
Part of my job as Nutrition Educator is to develop recipes for the abundant, and sometimes, unusual, foods we distribute at Manna. Upon learning this, my new friends at Melissa’s gifted Manna with this wonderful reference book, Melissa’s Great Book of Produce.
At the end of the day, eating more fruits and vegetables (no matter what the gender) is what counts the most. Our farmers, local grocery stores, and generous donors help make that possible for the families we serve. To learn more about how Manna drivers rescue food from local grocery stores, click here.
Lindsey here, sharing another round of my Notes from the Nutritionist: a series of kitchen tips we include in each Manna box to help families produce healthy, home-cooked meals.
Now, raise your hand if this has ever been you:
- Spot drool-worthy food photo.
- Glance / scroll down to discover accompanying recipe.
- Vow you are going to attempt this life-changing recipe in Your Very Own Kitchen.
- Check out the ingredient list, note the recipe calls for more than eight spices.
- Slump head in discouragement.
- Reheat leftovers instead.
I’ve got you covered…
Spices are a fantastic way to throw together a quick, wholesome, flavor-packed meal. Price doesn’t have to hinder every part of eating healthy. Hope you enjoyed Part II of our last blog post, The Prepared Pantry, with these remarkably simple tips to improve your spice rack this week.
Lindsey here. After being snowed in at home for four straight days, making meals from every canned bean and frozen vegetable I could combine, I got to the grocery store yesterday. Even after the winter storm has settled, some grocery shelves are still emptier than usual.
Having a stocked kitchen cupboard is not only your key to snowed-in sanity, but also a time and money-saver. When money is tight at the end of the week or the end of the month, stocked ingredients can turn your pantry items into a substantial, appetizing meal.
I developed this infographic for our Notes From the Nutritionist series: kitchen tips we include in each Manna box to help families produce healthy, home-cooked meals.
Want to learn more about reading food labels and shopping for the healthiest pantry items on a budget? Come to one of our grocery store tours around Montgomery County, just contact me at Lindsey@mannafood.org
Lindsey here. Despite all the responsibilities, I find the peace of being an adult some days is being alright with not having All The Answers. Nutrition research evolves constantly; scientific reports pop into the headlines about what not to eat this week, confusing the public. The role of Manna’s Nutrition Educator implies a vast knowledge base that intimidates even me. Being relatively new to my career, I can sometimes slip into a panic, convincing myself that perfect strangers will see “nutrition” in my job title and, on the spot, start quizzing me on GMOs, insoluble fiber or sources of Vitamin A (sweet potato, carrots, beef, kale, collards).
In recent conversations with families who receive food through our Smart Sacks program, one mother said she doesn’t know what to do with dried beans, another shared her frustration with cooking brown rice on a hurried weeknight. Before I could offer suggestions, the other parents spoke up:
- “I make a brown rice salad with corn, celery, green pepper, sweet pepper, and carrot. The dressing is lemon and mayo, and it is good three days in the fridge. Sometimes I add chicken.”
- “I make a sauce of tomato, sweet red pepper, onion, and fish. I parboil the brown rice, then finish cooking rice in the sauce so the rice is red and my kids don’t see that the rice is brown.”
With the gradual acceptance of not needing to have all the answers comes the opportunity to listen. Rather than spending the hour telling parents about the healthy dishes in which I use similar ingredients—and assuming my imaginary children adore my every culinary concoction—I took notes. Lots of notes.
One mother, from Nigeria, shared that the only beans she knows are black eyed peas. She often incorporates them into a porridge with yams and corn. Another parent, from Paraguay, says that beans are expensive in South America, and that she, too, is unaccustomed to cooking beans on a regular basis. A third parent, from Mexico voices her favorite Manna item: pink beans, which her family loves in a salad with scallion, tomato, cilantro, and canned salmon. The parents in attendance were eager to go home and try this one.
It’s a new year now, and from glancing at the grocery store magazines or health websites, it appears this is the month to reinvent the wheel: cook new foods, whip up creative lunches and dinner for your family.
My afternoon with these creative moms sparked a simpler idea.
Ask you friends and neighbors what they’re cooking this week. Isolation can be the biggest risk factor to one’s health, so get out and mingle. Cook with a friend, cook for a friend, pass along a new recipe, or have your kids select a new ingredient to cook at home. Isn’t it a relief that we don’t have to do everything by ourselves? The people around us have delicious wisdom and experience to share if we would just take the time to ask and listen.
Lindsey here. Did you know that FOOD DAY began in 1975? When I first heard of a designated FOOD DAY, I’ll admit: I thought it was just another excuse for foodies to get together to celebrate balsamic reductions, kale chips, quinoa, and squash bowls.
While I, too, find food glorious and glamorous, I work at Manna Food Center, where pallets piled high with hundreds of pounds of butternut squash and onions and cabbage make veggies feel, well, far from trendy. Food is this whole “thing” now, especially to millennials like myself. Eating is not merely a physiological obligation, it is a pastime to be tweeted and instagrammed, shared and envied.
There are magazines and television networks and podcasts making a big deal out of food. And while, even as a foodie, I can tire of the ‘Ten New Ways To Cook Tomatoes’ posts, I am glad there is an increasing conversation around food. Because food is a big deal, and how we share it is even bigger. There are many ways, big and small, we can help improve food access and food quality; and many stories that illustrate why we should:
Through Manna, I meet individuals who cannot afford food for the month. I hear the firsthand account of an elderly man who makes a single can of sliced green beans last for four meals. I listen to a voicemail from a mother who did not have enough food for the entire family to last the weekend, until her daughter brought home brown rice and oatmeal and canned produce in her Smart Sacks bag. At the Clarksburg Farmer’s Market last month, I met a farmer whose crops didn’t respond to this summer’s weather and faces financial loss as a result.
While food has become a source of exploration, experimentation, and joy in my own personal life, at my day job I’m often reminded that food is always a serious matter. It turns out, FOOD DAY is, too; it’s about improving our diets as well as our food policies. October 24 is a day to resolve to make changes in our own diets and to take action to solve food-related problems in our communities at the local, state, and national level. In 2015, Food Day’s theme is “Toward a Greener Diet.” FoodDay.org says, “Eating Real can save your own health and put our food system on a more humane, sustainable path. With America’s resources, there’s no excuse for hunger, low wages for food and farm workers, or inhumane conditions for farm animals.”
Although October 24th has passed, every day is truly “food day” at Manna Food Center, where we take steps to end hunger through food distribution, education, food rescue, and advocacy. Surf our site to find out how we’re working towards change, and how you can take part.
Lindsey here. This week, I visited our clients at one of Manna’s busiest distribution sites, Catholic Charities in Wheaton. After receiving food, about twenty people joined me for a community conversation and nutrition workshop inside Catholic Charities.
In my two years at Manna, I have led many workshops, conversed with many clients, listened to their stories. But there were two things about this evening that surprised me.
Garnering participants for any event can prove challenging. People have obligations with work and family, not to mention transportation hurdles. I hoped that advertising snacks might prove appealing to those leaving home around dinnertime.
We first took turn introducing ourselves and naming something “good or new” that happened to us in the past few days. Think about that phrase for a moment: happened to us. For so many people who find themselves in need of Manna’s food, it is not always the actions one takes in life that leads to poverty, but rather life happening to a person. Chronic illness, job loss, medical bills, divorce, relocation—the “stuff happens” circumstances. As the men and women in attendance listed their “something good”, the responses went like this:
- “I was called for work three times last week. I don’t have any calls this week, but maybe in a few days I will get a job. Working last week was good.”
- “I just got out of the hospital, so nothing feels good right now.”
- “I woke up today and I was able to get here. That’s good.”
There is never a time for me that these stories will feel commonplace or acceptable. They are simultaneously heart-wrenching and maddening.
At Manna, we serve families challenged by food insecurity who don’t always know when that next meal will be available—or the quality of the food they can afford. I spent so many years studying food insecurity, I don’t often think about our families as physically hungry. Hunger is that state we have all experienced, that discomfort relieved by eating. Where some of us can alleviate that hunger with food whenever we want, families facing food insecurity have limited foods available to them. The next meal may be out of reach financially, geographically, or both. When I visit their children in school, I rest assured these kids have breakfast and lunch among the safety of their peers.
But on Tuesday night, I spent time with their parents, and with unemployed singles. This group responded to my spread of apples, cheeses and whole grain crackers as if they had not eaten all day. It was at the end of class, when I passed out the leftover apples and boxes of crackers that I realized: maybe they hadn’t.
By the time I arrived home after class, it was just 30 minutes before I typically go to bed. Still, I stared at my bursting pantry and rummaged through the fridge, then freezer, eventually deciding I would stay up late to digest my impromptu dinner so I would not wake up hungry.
For no good reason, I have that choice. For now, my husband and I still have jobs to afford our house, our food and our fun. For now, we have our health and separate cars to get to our full-time jobs, and to the multiple grocery stores we frequent. For no good reason—not because I am good or worthy or luckier than most: I woke up to a refrigerator with multiple options for breakfast, I packed a lunch I had time to cook, I’m returning home to a delicious, healthy and homemade dinner. I have food in my home, with plenty to share.
For no good reason, I have that choice.
Lindsey here, with some photos of what we’ve been up to. I hope you came hungry…
Last week, Manna’s Nutrition Team (Jenna & Lindsey) enjoyed a second annual friendly-competition of CHOPPED! at the Clarksburg Farmer’s Market. With crisp produce from Scenic View Orchards, Chef Charley and Team Manna went knife-to-knife for the grand prize: bragging rights.
Our dishes were very different. Chef Charley went the tartine route, topping herbed bread with marinated beets, heirloom tomatoes, and cheese. What did Jenna and I make? Check out the recipe below!
LINDSEY’S INDIAN-SPICED AUTUMN SAUTÉ
Cook time: less than 20 minutes
1 pint fresh green beans, tips trimmed & sliced into 1 inch pieces
5 yukon gold potatoes, ½ inch dice
4 apples (we used Gala), diced
3 tablespoons cooking fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil; we used half butter, half olive oil)
½ tablespoon curry powder
½ teaspoon saigon cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ teaspoon salt
In a large pan over medium-low heat, heat oil/butter until melted. Sprinkle curry powder and cinnamon into melted butter and stir for 30 seconds. Add potatoes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just tender. Watch the heat, the potatoes should not get crispy or brown.
Once the potatoes are just fork-tender (not overcooked!), stir in the sliced green beans along with ½ cup water. Increase the heat to medium and cover pan to steam beans for about 2 minutes. Add the apples and stir, covering for 5 minutes. Add more water if the mixture sticks to the pan.
Toss with honey and lemon and taste the mixture: the apples should be slightly soft, the potatos and green beans tender. Add salt and additional curry powder or cinnamon as you like. The curry powder should be present, but not overpowering. Gobble up!
A word or two about spices:
“Curry” is a word that needlessly intimidates unfamiliar eaters. It is simply a sauce of spiced vegetables. The story goes that the British invented Curry Powder to bring the aromatic flavors of Indian cuisine to home kitchens. Store-bought curry powder is just a spice blend of tumeric, ground ginger, coriander, cumin and paprika—flavorful, but not necessarily spicy.
Saigon Cinnamon packs more punch that traditional ground cinnamon. I find it at conventional grocery stores among the jarred spices.
All proceeds from the dollar-votes went to Manna. The votes, for the second year in a row, were split down the middle–meaning shoppers and tasters enjoyed a might delicious morning. Thank you to all who came out!