Monday, November 24, 2014

Healthy Happy Meals: A Local Fight to End Childhood Hunger

Healthy Happy Meals

As a mother, I can think of very few things that would be as heartbreaking as not being able to adequately nourish my own children.  My two kids are lucky that they have healthy, delicious food available to them all the time and will most likely never know what it feels like to go to bed hungry or not know where they are going to get their next meal.  Unfortunately, not all kids are so blessed.  Millions of children in the United States, supposedly the most prosperous country on Earth, live in homes that are "food insecure."* For many of these kids, the only guaranteed meals they get are the ones provided at school.  But what happens on the weekends, especially long weekends, or extended holidays?

Last Spring I attended a PTO meeting at my son's elementary school because there was going to be a presentation by the dietitian from my local grocery store. I wanted to meet her and was curious to hear her advice about healthy eating and maybe give me some suggestions for this blog.  I was able to do all of those things, but the best part of the meeting was when the principle asked the PTO if they would provide a start up fund for a food assistance backpack program for kids at the school that the principle knew were in need.  I had recently seen a television segment about a program just like that at an inner city school and although I knew there was a need where I live as well, I didn't necessarily have the contacts or resources to start something on my own.  But the idea jumped out at me as something that I really wanted to be involved in, so I contacted the principle as soon as the meeting was over to offer my services in whatever way she would need.  Shortly thereafter, the principle, the dietitian and I sat down and drew up plans to start our own backpack program, which we entitled "Healthy Happy Meals."

Lacking the funds to provide assistance every weekend, we decided to focus on long weekends and predictable snow days and to fill the bags with the equivalent of two breakfasts and two lunches.  Since the items have to be non perishable, some of the choices are limited, but we came up with a bag that I think is not only fun for the kids, but nutritionally balanced.  It is only meant as a supplement to whatever food they will hopefully have at home as well, but as the principle has said, anything to help alleviate this problem is important, since a hungry child is not a child who is ready to learn, laugh or have fun.  We successfully sent home bags with about 40 kids over Easter break and Memorial Day weekend, using the money from the PTO with the plan to extend the funding to the community this fall.

So a couple of month ago, we held a fundraiser at the local Shoprite and sold the bags for $3.00 a piece (the generous family owned store fronted us about $ .80 per bag).  People were able to use a ticket with a code on it to buy as many bags as they wanted when checking out and the total was recorded and the bags were sent to the school. We packed most of the bags on the premises, so that people who weren't sure what we were doing or putting in the bags were able to see it all first hand.  Over the course of about six hours, spread over three different days, we sold close to 600 bags, which is more than enough to provide Healthy Happy Meals to numerous elementary age children for the next couple of long weekends.

What amazed me last week, right before we were set to send the first group home with kids, is that Dr. Oz highlighted a teacher who created a very similar project at her school after hearing that one of her students had not eaten since the previous Friday.  I almost lost my breath while watching it because the story is so similar to what happened with the principle at my local school.  That could easily have been her up there being congratulated and applauded for her efforts to help curb child hunger.  I am just honored that I have been able to take part in such a worthy cause and cannot wait to see how much more we are willing to do in the future.  Attached is the link to the Dr. Oz episode, as well as a newspaper article about the program we did here locally.  So this Holiday season, when you are busy planning your own parties and feasts, and worrying about eating too much, remember that there are people in your community who only wish they had that same problem. Please do your part and help out, whether it means donating a few more items than usual to the local food drive, helping out at a food pantry or homeless shelter, donating your grocery store's free turkey to a family in need, or finding out if there is a program like this... and if not, maybe figuring out how to start one. Because no child should ever go to bed hungry.


Items in the "Healthy Happy Meal"

ready to go in a backpack

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Curried Onion Soup

Curried Onion Soup
If you live in the North like I do and have a backyard garden, this is the time of year when you have to watch helplessly as mother nature claims the last of whatever you might have been growing and you are forced to pull up the remnants of your once fruitful plants in anticipation of watching your land be covered in snow.  But if you tended your garden well and stored certain produce correctly, you may still have a few precious root vegetables lying around.  To be honest, I made this soup back in September when the last of my onion crop looked past its prime and  I figured I had better pick them before they began to rot.  But I know of a lot of local gardeners with fresh onions still being picked or brought out of storage.  Obviously, you can purchase all that you need for this soup at your local grocery store as well, but when I made this, I was lucky enough to have a lot of fresh produce still available right out my back door.

Everyone has heard of French Onion Soup, which is a hearty, and often buttery, beefy soup smothered in toast and cheese.  Onions are one of the most healthful foods on the planet and have been consumed and revered for their medicinal properties since ancient times, so in my opinion, the more you can include them in your diet, the better.  Even if you have to cover this soup with bread and cheese, at least you are getting the onions into you first.  What is so great about this recipe is that by adding the flavor of green curry and coconut oil, you transform a traditional soup into something exotic and surprising.  The addition of the chick peas adds some protein and the kale adds a boost of antioxidants and texture.  So as the weather turns and you are craving something to not only nourish your body, but warm your soul, give this soup recipe a try.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Creamy Broccoli and Pea Soup

Creamy Broccoli and Pea Soup

Having just finished a bowl of this soup for the second night in a row, I knew I couldn't wait any longer to share the recipe.  It is honestly my new favorite soup, not only because it is healthy and filling, but because it is so easy to make.  I know when my meat and potato loving husband asks me "what is in this... it is really good!" that I am on to something.  Usually when you order Broccoli and Cheddar "Soup" in a restaurant you get some glorified cheez wiz and chicken broth concoction with tiny pieces of broccoli in it.  Not exactly nutritious, or appetizing, in my opinion.  While most of the ingredients in the following recipe are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber, there is a considerable amount of cheese as well, which you could easily reduce if you are watching your weight or your heart health.  I divided this soup into five hearty servings and the nutrition information (listed below) is still not that bad.  And it is an easy way to get yourself and your family to eat their greens, and some fiber, which is always a good thing.  I love that I was able to sneak in a whole block of organic tofu for some extra protein... no one would ever know it was in there, just that this soup is extra creamy without the addition of any actual cream. Best yet?  It uses frozen vegetables, so you can make it year round, it's affordable and really easy to throw together.  You can even make it ahead and let it simmer on the stove for an hour or two which is great on a busy weeknight with kids getting home at different times and needing help with homework.  So when the weather turns cool this week, why not give this soup a try?