When was the last time you considered buying an unfamiliar vegetable, but ultimately decided against it? Was it because you weren’t sure how to prepare it, or weren’t convinced that you’d like it?
Staff at Central Illinois Foodbank, a member of the Feeding America network, were concerned when they noticed that some of the families they serve were hesitant to take home certain items from their food distributions, like butternut squash, because they were unfamiliar with what to do with them at home. They also knew that many of the people they serve struggle with serious medical problems, and sadly, they sometimes need to choose between basic essentials like food and medicine when money is tight. They wanted to help these individuals discover nutritious foods that could help them stay healthy and strong.
After much careful deliberation, the food bank decided that hosting healthy cooking demonstrations at their food distributions and other events could help reduce the barriers that prevent people from trying healthy foods that are new to them. But they needed a way to safely and cost-effectively offer cooking demonstrations in the various environments where food distributions are held, such as parking lots and community centers.
With generous support from SYSCO, Central Illinois Foodbank purchased a mobile kitchen cart to teach adults and children alike how to cook new foods and prepare familiar foods more healthfully. The versatile cart, which they started using last October, includes a cooktop, convection oven, sink, and various child-safe knives and utensils, among other features. It’s completely portable and can run on a generator that was recently donated by another supporter, so it can be used in even the most rural areas of the 22 counties served by the food bank.
Central Illinois Foodbank is thinking critically about how they can help people facing hunger use food as medicine. And using a mobile kitchen cart allows them to elevate nutrition education. Instead of simply handing out recipes, they guide people through the process of preparing healthy dishes and offer them samples when the meal is finished. The food bank believes that inviting people to actively participate in meal preparation — from washing to chopping to cooking — just might make all the difference in helping them make healthier food choices.
To ensure that they are providing the most useful health tips to their community, trained volunteer dieticians from the Capital Area Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have led all cooking demonstrations so far using the mobile kitchen cart. These demonstrations are offered at events such as mobile pantries, which Central Illinois Foodbank offers as farmer’s market-style food distributions. The mobile pantries are full service: Families can select their own groceries and benefit from other community resources, such as financial literacy training provided by a local bank and health screenings offered by a nearby health clinic. Now, they can also gather around the mobile kitchen cart and learn new ways to prepare nourishing meals.
There are people across our nation struggling with the same challenges identified by Central Illinois Foodbank. Feeding America’s Hunger in America research finds that chronic health conditions and spending tradeoffs are common among the people our network serves, making nutritious food all the more important. Central Illinois Foodbank’s mobile kitchen cart is one of many examples of the creative solutions that food banks have developed to encourage healthy choices. Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks is committed to not only alleviating hunger but also making it easier for people in need to enjoy nutritious foods that will help them better manage their health.