Getting wise about food – Kenosha News

It was a Wednesday morning at the Shalom Center food pantry and pasta salad was on the menu.

Using a combination of fresh and canned ingredients available that day at the pantry, Jill Frideres, nutrition educator for the University of Wisconsin-Extension, had created a summer salad, offering it up to clients shopping the pantry shelves.

For many years, UW-Extension nutrition educators have been helping food pantry clients get familiar with foods found on the pantry shelves through a statewide program called FoodWIse.

“Whatever we do, we try to get as many food groups involved, especially fruits and vegetables,” said Terri Ward, FoodWIse nutrition administrator for Kenosha and Racine counties.

Headquartered in Racine, FoodWIse addresses the needs of low and limited resource residents. Currently the program has eight nutrition educators in the Kenosha-Racine area, four of whom are bilingual, Ward said. Unfortunately, need greatly exceeds resources, she said. “We’ve got one educator to an exorbitant number of learners.”

Using what’s on hand

Twice each month, Frideres visits the Shalom Center food pantry, 8043 Sheridan Road, to showcase ingredients and their uses for clients.

Before each visit, nutrition educators meet with the food pantry team to determine what foods to focus on.

In addition to recipe sharing, the educators provide information about price and nutritional value of items. “Some recipes are geared toward using what’s on hand, others encourage participants to try nutritious foods they may not have tried previously and all try to use fruits and veggies, whole grains and lean proteins,” Ward said.

Previously demonstrated recipes have included corn and black bean salad and a frozen fruit mini parfait with yogurt and granola.

Some of the FoodWIse programs take place in schools, others at food pantries. Those done in classroom settings have resulted in dietary changes in staff as well as students, Ward said.

FoodWIse is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture in two grants; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education grant and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

In addition to twice-monthly visits to the Shalom Center pantry, Extension nutrition educators also visit the Sharing Center in Trevor.

Sharon Pomaville, director of the Sharing Center, has been impressed with the services provided by the Extension nutritional team. “Some of the most successful lessons have been how hummus tastes, what to to with an acorn squash and how to cook a (dry) pinto bean.”

Because food pantry items are always changing, nutrition educators wait until three or four days before a visit to contact pantry staff to see what’s on hand for food demos.

When the Sharing Center recently received an abundance of brown rice and raisins, educators demonstrated how make a rice pudding, Pomaville said.

Another time, the center ended up with almost 500 pounds of squash, according to Pomaville. After clients learned how to simply prepare the vegetable, the problem of excess squash was quickly solved, she said.

This summer the Shalom Center food pantry got in a large shipment of fresh mint. The solution Frideres came up with was to demonstrate how to make mint-infused water. This created an opportunity to discuss the benefits of non-sugary beverages, she added.

Frideres’ “Create Your Own One-Dish Salad” utilized whole grain elbow pasta, canned chicken, canned corn, black olives, fresh cucumber, chunks of cheddar cheese and Italian dressing, all in stock that day. Along with the tasty samples, she provided a list of the possible ingredients for her “create your own one-dish salad.”

Samples start conversations

Diane Saaby, a Kenosha resident, was among several who accepted samples of Frideres’ pasta salad.

“I like the olives but don’t like the corn, so I’d leave it out of mine,” she commented. Saaby said she had also enjoyed and used previous recipes demonstrated at the food pantry. “We loved the potato bake. My son now makes it and shares it at work,” she said.

The food samples become conversation starters, said Ward. “We might talk about what things could be substituted in a recipe or whether someone has ever made pasta salad before.”

In addition to addressing a surfeit of certain pantry items, the program seeks to work with needs specific to pantry users.

Says Ward, “Many food pantry participants have multiple challenges in their lives or families that are urgent or will be a higher priority than nutrition. Some have never learned how to cook or use whole foods, but may have grown up eating convenience foods, frozen or fast foods. Some may not have had the benefit of growing up with an adult caregiver preparing healthy foods and may not have had a resource to learn how to purchase or prepare healthy foods themselves, or why that’s even important.”

Cindi Armstrong, FoodWIse teaching coordinator, added, “I find it especially important to demo recipes in the pantry that someone cooking for one or two people can also relate to. Many pantry participants are older adults or adults with disabilities. Some have lost their desire to cook and want to just ‘combine and eat.’”

“We often share Leanne Brown’s cookbook ‘Good and Cheap’ at various programs,” Ward added. For example, a veggie burger recipe that calls for lentils ends up costing less than 90 cents per serving, she said.

“The focus is on pretty basic nutritional messages taken from sources like,” Ward said. “They are mostly general messages — foods that over time tend to produce healthy outcomes. We also try to dispel the myth that eating healthy is more expensive.”

Ward stressed that the hands-on food information makes no assumptions about the cooking experience of those who attend. “Particularly with adult learners we need to recognize what they bring to the table. We’re not ‘tellers,’” she said.

“The program has been very good for our folks; the nutritionists have been creative and helpful,” Pomaville said.

“When we engage people, we want them to begin to imagine how to apply this lesson in their lives,” Ward said. “If they can make the association to something they already know, these are lessons that stick.”


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