June 2009


By Phoebe Fleming from Project Bread

As we approach the closing of schools, we may overlook lunch – an important meal that children should be eating even though they are not in school.  The solution is The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) which provides free, healthy meals to children and teens up to age 18.    The free meals are available at specific Boston locations during the summer months. The SFSP is a safe, fun way for children to get nutritious meals when school is not in session, and it’s easy to participate since no sign up or identification is required.

 Why is there a summer meals program?

During the school year, many families can stretch their food budget by applying for free or reduced price school meals for their children.   The School Lunch Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

When school is not in session, families often find it difficult to pay the additional meal costs.  During the summer months, without the opportunity to meet this need, children may be at risk for hunger and malnutrition, which could put them at a disadvantage when they return to school in September.  By providing free, nutritious meals and opportunities to continue physical and social development throughout the summer, the SFSP ensures that children return to school ready to learn.

What are the meals like?

Most sites serve lunch and some may offer other meals such as breakfast, snack, or supper. All food served as part of the SFSP must meet federal nutritional guidelines. Meals may be hot, cold, or a combination of both and include milk, fruit and/or vegetables, grains, and a meat or meat alternate (egg, yogurt, nuts, etc.).

Where?

SFSP sites are located in schools, parks, pools, neighborhood centers, faith based organizations, social service agencies, and other local sites in Boston and throughout Massachusetts. In addition to healthy meals, sites often feature supervised recreational or educational activities for kids such as sports, arts and crafts, books, and games.

 How to Get Involved

For more information about the Summer Food Service Program, CALL Project Bread’s Food Source Hotline at 1-800-645-8333 or visit www.meals4kids.org   from July 1st through August 31st.

This  blog is in response to a request from a consumer who asked for tips on how to manage to prepare healthy meals on a regular basis.  The best way to start is to Stock a Healthy Kitchen.

It’s easy to get frustrated choosing what to make for a healthy meal, especially dinner, after a busy day at work.  The best way to ensure that you can prepare a healthy nourishing meal that is not loaded with calories, fats, salt and added sweeteners is to stock a healthy kitchen.  A stocked pantry will make it easier to prepare and serve a healthy meal with the least amount of effort. Quick meals can be just as nutritious as those that require lengthy preparation time. Basically, it’s all dependent on what foods or staples you have and how much time you have for preparation.

Getting your pantry, refrigerator and freezer stocked with healthy items DOES NOT have to break your budget.  Start slowly and add ingredients, utensils as you increase your recipes and cooking skills.  Spring time is the perfect time to think about cleaning out, and restocking.  Here are some suggestions that can make your meal preparation a pleasure rather than a stressful situation.  

 

Keep in dry storage (pantry)  

Canned goods and bottled items

  • Canned beans –cannellini, great northern, and chick peas black, red and kidney beans. 
  • Low sodium  chicken, beef or vegetable broths
  • Tomatoes,   diced, puree, whole and sauce,
  •  Light or white tuna and salmon, water packed
  • Fruits canned in juice
  •  White wine ( Non alcohol variety is available )

Vegetables /fruits and nuts

  • Potatoes , russets  and red
  • Onions , yellow and red
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Dried fruits  all varieties
  • Nuts- almonds,  walnuts, pecans 

Oils and condiments

  • Canola or Vegetable oil for cooking
  • Spray oils canola or olive 
  • Extra virgin olive oil for cooking and salad dressings
  • Reduced –fat mayonnaise
  • Vinegars- balsamic, red–wine, rice –wine, apple cider and white.
  • Sauces,  barbecue, or marinades
  • Lite Soy sauce,  hoisin sauce 
  • Ketchup

Flavorings

  • Iodized salt
  • Kosher salt,  sea salt
  • Black peppercorns
  • Onions  fresh and dried
  • Garlic powder
  • Dried herbs,- bay leaves, sage , thyme leaves, oregano, Italian seasoning blend 
  •  Spices  ( whole or ground )  chili powder , cinnamon,  cumin, ground ginger, dry mustard, paprika, crushed red pepper
  •  Sugar , white and brown
  • Honey

  Breads, grains and legumes

  • Breads, whole grain and enriched
  •  Whole grain crackers
  • Flour, all purpose enriched and whole  wheat flour
  • Rolled oats, regular and quick cooking ( but not instant )
  • Pasta in a variety of shapes and sizes- preferably whole wheat  
  • Brown rice,  regular and quick cooking,
  • Sugar, white and brown
  • Plain dry  bread crumbs
  • Whole grain cereals

 Keep in your freezer

  •  Whole grain bagels, pita bread
  • Boneless chicken breasts
  • Fish fillets
  • Frozen vegetables,- all varieties without added butters or sauces
  •  Frozen berries and fruits
  •  100% fruit juices, concentrate
  • Lean beef
  •  Ground turkey
  • Turkey sausage, breakfast links and/or  Italian for quick pasta dishes   
  • Pizza crust
  • Frozen basil or garlic
  •  Frozen low –fat yogurt or ice cream for quick dessert
  • Fresh ginger  ( freeze unused portions and take out  as needed)

 Keep in your refrigerator

  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cheddar cheese or feta cheese
  • Good quality parmesan or romano cheese
  • Citrus juice,  orange or grapefruit
  •  Low –fat cottage cheese
  • Dijon mustard
  • Fresh fruits in season
  • Lemons and limes  
  •  Parsley , fresh basil, scallions
  • Fresh garlic
  • Milk, low-fat
  • Salad dressings, light or low-fat
  • Salsa
  • Vegetables,-  carrots, celery, lettuce, green or red  pepper, tomatoes
  •  Low fat yogurt
  • Water packed tofu
  •  Turkey bacon
  • Unsalted butter
  • Trans fat free margarine

 These basic items will get you started on your way to healthy cooking.  To begin, check the sales on your frozen vegetables, canned goods and dry goods and stock up.   Check your discount stores for sales on the dried fruits, herbs, spices and oils.  Often at the discount store you can get the dried herbs and, spices for under a dollar.    Don’t’ forget to use coupons on items that are on sale. This is how you can stock up on the lower cost side.  So as you prepare your healthy kitchen continue to use the other tips of menu planning, and sticking to grocery list except to add one or two items from the stock list to build your base.

The beauty of having a healthy stocked kitchen is that today, I found a new recipe for beef and asparagus stir fry which looks tasty with a nice Asian flavor.   On my weekly menu I had a beef dish planned, but I was busy this morning and did not add the dish to the slow cooker.    We all have days when things do not go as planned.  Not to stress about it because the new recipe I found will be just as great.   I have all the ingredients.  I will use the beef already planned, just slice it thin. All the others ingredients or flavorings, I do not have to run out for, I have them in the dry pantry.  I have in the freezer asparagus (purchased on sale two weeks ago and then froze).   So when I get home I can relax, enjoy preparing a healthy meal in 40 minutes (that’s how long it takes brown rice to cook.) and enjoy tasting a new dish

June is here, which means that farmers’ markets will soon be opening.  There are more farmers’ markets in Boston than you probably think.   Here is a link to all TWENTY farmers’ markets that will be operating in Boston this summer, including locations, days, times, and what forms of payment they take.  Scroll down to find the Suffolk County (Boston) listing.      

 Due to some great work by various partners in the past two years, ALL Boston farmers markets now take WIC and Senior Coupons.  Additionally, about half also now have electronic bank transfer (EBT) machines to accept food stamps. 

Farmers markets’ provide fresh local produce to neighborhoods that have limited access to this healthy option.  Everyone should have the opportunity to affordable food, and Farmers’ markets help make local organic produce available.  

 Here are a few reasons for selecting locally grown produce and for patronizing farmers’ markets. 

  • The soil and production methods used on smaller farms tend to increase the nutritional quality of the crops

Small farmers are more likely to use organic and sustainable methods of growing.  Studies have shown that roots in organic soil grow deeper than in soil fertilized conventionally.  Deeper roots mean the crops take up and incorporate nutrients more efficiently, which increases their nutritional content.  These methods are also better for the environment because famers use fewer chemicals and practice crop rotation.

  • The produce is allowed to ripen before being picked, which increases its vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content 

Produce allowed to ripen before harvesting has higher amounts of nutrients than the same kind of produce ripened in storage.  The longer a plant is attached to the soil, the more nutrients it can absorb.  The soil and sun also help the plant create more antioxidants.  Local produce is picked when it’s ripe because it doesn’t have to endure long transportation and storage time.

  • The produce  is usually sold with in 24 hours of being picked, which means that it hasn’t had time to lose a lot of those nutrients

Produce starts losing nutrients the moment it is picked.  Did you know that conventional produce travels an average of 1,500 miles to its retail destination?  The journey usually takes between 2-7 days, and then the time spent on the shelf at the store begins.  Local produce at farmers’ markets travels an average of only 50 miles.  The food sold there goes directly from soil to consumers’ hands within a day or two.   So you’ll be able to buy corn on the cob picked that very morning in many Boston neighborhoods later this summer! 

  • Farmers’ markets usually offer more uncommon and interesting selections than conventional markets, so you’re more likely to try a variety of fruits and vegetables. 

More variety means a greater spectrum of new produce for you to try, but also increases your intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.   Produce sold at supermarkets has been chosen for endurance of long transportation and storage.  Local farmers can grow more of a variety thanks to handpicking and the limited shipment involved.  Farmers’ markets in different areas may also exhibit various products appealing to ethnic groups that live in each neighborhood.  This gives an exciting opportunity to discover plants used in other cuisines.  Ask how the farmer how to prepare the new produce if you’re not sure!                                                                       

So as we approach the season, mark your calendar so you can experience the joy of attending a farmer’s market.  Being at the market is also a fun social interaction time with neighbors, friends, family, and the farmers.  All of these factors work together to increase of appreciation and enjoyment of healthy, nutritious, locally grown food!

Special thanks to Rebecca Brotzman for her contribution to this blog!