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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Filtering by Tag: Food Budgeting

Shopping Matters teaches participants how to read food labels, use unit pricing

dorothy hernandez

Mary Bailey, Cooking Matters for Adults participant at Mercy Primary Care, has her shopping routine down. She always has a list and makes sure to eat something before going to the store so she doesn’t shop hungry.

But even the savvy shopper picked up a few new tips and tricks after taking the grocery store tour with fellow Cooking Matters classmates as well as Shopping Matters participants on July 10 at Walmart in Sterling Heights.

“I was not really savvy with unit prices before,” she says.

While shopping, she said she compared the unit prices of the Great Value cooking spray vs. Crisco and realized Great Value was the better deal.

As a participant in the class, she also learned how to cook healthier. “I learned how to cook without a lot of salt and oils. Now I make my own seasonings.”

Her cart was full of whole foods, such as cantaloupe, cottage cheese, lemon and limes, squash and onions, brown rice and salmon in her cart. Using some of the planning skills taught in the previous lesson, she swapped out the broccoli and spinach that was on her list for the available and more budget-friendly squash.

Another skill the tour aims to teach participants is reading labels. For Shopping Matters participant Jennifer Morris, the Detroiter learned to pay more attention to the products. She primarily eats a vegetarian diet and had her cart full of dried beans and veggies to make a meatless chili, she said. The idea to make chili came to her after walking around with her group. She also said the tour helped her make more informed choices about which foods to get.

Angela Davenport, who was in the Shopping Matters group, said the tour helped her make better choices.

“Before I was just grabbing what I saw … (the tour) was very good,” she said.

These ladies, along with about 10 other participants, were able to apply their newfound budgeting skills, thanks to a donation of $150 gift cards by the store.

“As a company, we’ve always had good relationships with Gleaners” and other community organizations, said store manager Rob Aquilina. He said each store works with specific agencies in their areas to give back to the community.

When asked if Walmart would do more tours with Shopping Matters, he said, “I’d love to be more involved and see what we can do.” He added Walmart is committed to the food bank, which aligns with one of the company's three main values: fighting hunger, education and work force development.

Volunteer spotlight: A'Donna Fuller

dorothy hernandez

"Giving back to the community through Cooking Matters has been the most rewarding thing I have done throughout my culinary career."

Like many chefs and cooks, A'Donna Fuller's love of cooking was inspired by her mom. Now a personal chef, A'Donna finds joy in cooking for others.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I spent most of my childhood in Detroit. I went to college in Columbus, Ohio. I eventually ended up in the Ypsi/Ann Arbor area.I got my feet wet in formal culinary training at Washtenaw Community College although most of my professional training came from studying Culinary Management (Art Institute in Novi). I still take continuing education classes taught by leading industry experts at Schoolcraft College and anywhere else I can find culinary classes.

I spent my entire childhood watching my mother take great pride in planning and cooking family meals, host fabulous dinner parties, and even cater for some celebrities. When I had the wild idea to go vegetarian as a teenager, my mom gladly took on the challenge of making 2 meals every night - one meal for my father and siblings and a hearty and fresh meat-free option for me. She was so creative, I was never bored with her take on vegetarian meals and couldn't wait to get home just to see what she would come up with next!

How and why did you end up pursuing a career as a personal chef? There was nothing I loved more than watching my mom meticulously plate meals and plan dinners as a kid. She took great pride in cooking and presenting meals like it was a sport. Watching her developed my obsession with cooking, food science, and planning menus for parties.

I was first introduced to the idea of becoming a personal chef through an article I read long before I ever took my first culinary class. I found all the information I could find about the personal chef industry and decided to give it a try. Years later I joined the American Personal & Private Chef Association - they give me all the training I need for the personal chef aspect of culinary arts. I have always enjoyed helping people and cooking, so being a personal chef was a perfect fit. After hearing about the burnout chefs often experience in commercial kitchens, I could not stand the thought of stepping into a commercial kitchen. This is when I ultimately decided to make my way into the private sector.

Tell us about your business. What do you specialize in? Bella Donna Cooks! is a personal chef business that helps families and individuals that are too busy to cook, don't know how to cook, or have recently been diagnosed with a health condition prompting them to make immediate changes to their diets. Even though I love to cook everything, I specialize in vegan, diabetic, low carb, and petite pastry options. Although my primary line of work is as a personal chef, I also teach culinary classes, do cooking demos, do social catering for intimate events and host cupcake decorating parties for kids and adults. If it's in the culinary arena, I will do it!

Why did you start volunteering for Cooking Matters? I thought it was the most amazing idea that a structured program like Cooking Matters existed. I feel it is imperative to make sure everyone knows about healthy eating on a budget. Even though I own and operate a business that does just that, I honestly find it hard to associate a fee with helping people to eat healthy! I am so happy to have the opportunity to pass on the knowledge of healthy, quick, fresh, and budget-friendly meals through Cooking Matters. Giving back to the community through Cooking Matters has been the most rewarding thing I have done throughout my culinary career.

What has been a highlight from class for you? Please give a specific example. First Dorothy, Vani, and the volunteers that I have worked with are amazing! They are supportive and trust my opinions.

The biggest highlight from the last (Cooking Matters for Adults) class (at Go-Getters) was during frittata week. Once I saw the puzzled looks on the students' faces when I announced the recipe name - I asked the students to think of a quiche and an omelette having a baby. Most said "Oh, I get it!" ....then a slightly different response, a student quipped "I don't eat eggs!"....I asked her why and she just couldn't give me a "good answer." I put her in charge of cracking all 12 eggs, helping to season the egg mixture, and when the frittata was done, I personally served her first and said "Just try it." I went to the back and started washing dishes. I came back out and guess what? Her plate was empty! I asked her what happened to her frittata, she said "I ate it, and it was good...this is something I could see myself making for me and my family!" I was so excited that she even tried it, but the fact that she was willing to duplicate the recipe at home and started asking questions about other ingredients she could put in it? I was floored! It is incredible to be able to introduce new concepts, foods, and techniques that people so often overlook.

What is your favorite aspect of being a chef? I love researching recipes and shopping in unconventional places for unique ingredients. I really like introducing new foods to people. Especially foods that people think are "too healthy" to possibly be good! I live for the moment when my dish is served, and I get to see their faces light up after eating a dish that I made.

You have a knack for budgeting. What are your top tips for cooking healthy on a budget?

The biggest tip is to be prepared! #1- Plan your meals for two weeks at a time if at all possible. This gives you the opportunity to share as many ingredients across as many dishes as possible. Plus I see way too many people only buying their groceries for 1-2 days at a time. Not only is it a time killer, but you tend to overspend this way. #2 - Keep staples on hand (seasonings, canned goods, frozen vegetables/fruits, even having some frozen meats). These staples will almost always complement your meals, so when you make your grocery list - you will not have to buy nearly as much. Stock up on fresh fruits and veggies when they are on sale, bring them home and cut up what you think you may not use within 3 days, and pop them in the freezer in small portions. If packaged properly, they will last for months - reducing your grocery bill over time. You can use them for healthy desserts, smoothies, soups, stews, and sauces. #3 - Last but not least, do not throw away extra food or let any food spoil if you can help it - you can do this by re-purposing food that is from leftovers. Did you shred too much chicken for your chicken tortilla soup? Freeze the extra chicken and pull it out later in the week to make chicken wraps, chicken salads, or chicken enchiladas.

When you're not cooking, what do you like to do in your spare time? I love to go to the local museums and check out new exhibits and will often find a new restaurant in the area to try right after visiting the museum. I love to listen to smooth jazz and Stevie Wonder!

Finally, can you share with us your favorite budget-friendly, healthy recipe? Here is my favorite vegetarian recipe that I submitted to a vegetarian website - around $4.75/recipe!

Awesome Angel Hair

1/2 pound angel hair pasta (whole wheat or Dreamfields low carb brand) kosher coarse sea salt, for pasta water 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 heaping teaspoon garlic, minced 1 tablespoon dried basil 1 tablespoon dried oregano 1 (8 ounce) can chickpeas, drained 2 cups frozen or fresh broccoli 1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained (no salt added) *optional - fresh parmesan to sprinkle on top

1. Prepare the angel hair according to box directions. While the pasta is boiling, prepare the sauce. In a saucepan or wok, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to low and add the garlic to the pan, and saute for 2 minutes. 2. Add the dried seasonings to the pan. Drain the pasta and slowly add the pasta into the olive oil mixture, stirring after each addition (this is to make sure the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce). 3. After all the pasta has been added, toss in the chickpeas, tomatoes, and broccoli. Toss until well combined and the broccoli is heated through, plate and serve!

Understanding Our Participants

jhartrick

 

A few weeks ago, the Associated Press reported on a study from Washington University in St. Louis that found that nearly half of all U.S. children (and 90% of African-American children) will be on food stamps “at some point during childhood, and fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher.”

Food stamps are a Department of Agriculture program for low-income individuals and families, covering most foods although not prepared hot foods or alcohol. For a family of four to be eligible, their annual take-home pay can't exceed about $22,000.

According to a USDA report released last month, 28.4 million Americans received food stamps in an average month in 2008, and about half were younger than age 18. The average monthly benefit per household totaled $222.

 u1_BridgeCard

The lead author of the study, Mark Rank, said that his work suggests that most people know a family that has received or will receive food stamps.

In Detroit, these numbers are not surprising. With a high participation rate in federal assistance programs amongst those who are eligible (92% for food stamps, in fact), it’s likely that you would know more than a few families who have received food stamps.

For Operation Frontline, close to 80% of our participants are eligible for federal assistance programs. This means that every one of them is on a tight budget and is looking for tips on how to feed a family inexpensively.

ofl pics 112

My Experience as an AmeriCorps

Before working with Operation Frontline, I (Diana) had never been on any kind of federal assistance. As a kid, my family struggled through tough times – my mom worked six days a week, twelve hours a day. We lived in a slightly conservative area, so because of the stigma associated with food stamps and my family’s pull-yourself-from-the-bootstraps mentality, we refused to receive help from anyone, including the government.

As an AmeriCorps member, however, I’m beginning to experience how difficult it is to budget when there is little to go around. (A note: Because the AmeriCorps year is considered a year of service, we receive a yearly salary of $11,100.)

Encouraged from our national office to apply for food stamps, I finished the application in early September. It took six weeks from the time I applied to the moment I received my benefits. In that time, my car broke down, requiring $800 in repairs. The second most expensive thing I own – my computer – also broke down, requiring $100 in repairs.

I’m lucky to have had friends and family to help me through this time, but I realized how vulnerable those of low income are to any spontaneous change. $900 was almost a month’s income for me, and yet, I was forced to pay it because my job requires it, and the city I live in lacks an adequate public transportation system.

If this situation were to happen to me as a single mom trying to feed my kids, I would not have been able to wait six weeks for assistance. I would need that money for food and depend on it every month.

This is oftentimes the situation that our participants are in. Between rent, utilities, and those spontaneous problems that arise, food can be farther down on the list of priorities than maybe it should be. I’ve heard many people say that they have to choose between paying the utility bill and paying for medications. Maybe one month they’ll worry about eating well, but the next month they have to pay their landlord.

For me, receiving a small salary was a choice. The opportunity to work for Gleaners and to serve the community was something that I valued more than getting a large paycheck. For our participants, it’s never a choice to constantly be in that dangerous balance, where the scale can be tipped so easily.

For those of you who volunteer with OFL or work with an organization that serves low-income populations, this vulnerability may be an important thing to keep in mind. I can’t say that I’m a spokesperson for the poor, so I encourage you to look at these resources to continue thinking about this issue:

Food Budgeting: Coupons

jhartrick

 This morning, Good Morning America had a segment about how coupons can stretch your food dollars. Their featured mom, who has a family of six, spends an average of $4 a week on groceries. Now, how much of that is fresh produce? I can't say, but it does make you think twice about throwing the circular away every week.  You can see the rest of the article here. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHNCtf86jts]

A New York Times article last month pointed out that coupon use has increased during the recession, particulary digital coupons from websites that compile bargains. A few websites that are especially useful if you are pinching pennies are:

  1. Red Plum
  2. Coupons.com
  3. Cellfire
  4. Susan Samtur's Select Coupon Program
  5. Freebies 4 Mom

Recipe Developed by OFL: Detroit Volunteer Appears in The Dallas Morning News

jhartrick

This past week, The Dallas Morning News showcased a recipe in their article "Barley Jambalaya an inexpensive, Creole-flavored way to feed a group" that is nutritious and easy to make. The recipe, developed by our own Chef Sarah McKay (long-time volunteer for Operation Frontline: Detroit) replaces sausage and white rice for turkey ham and barley, kicking up the fiber content and reducing the fat content. This recipe is a favorite amongst OFL participants and appears in almost all of our classes. Congratulations, Sarah!                                                                                                                           Barley Jambalaya

Barley Jambalaya
Serves 6
 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 2 medium celery stalks
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 4 ounces turkey ham
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  1. Place barley in a colander and rinse under cold water. Bring water, bay leaves, and barley to a boil in medium saucepan over high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover saucepan and cook barley until tender and water is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Place barley in a colander, draining any excess water, and set aside.
  3. Rinse celery and green pepper. Peel onions and garlic and rinse onions.
  4. Dice onions, celery, and green pepper and mince garlic.
  5. Dice turkey ham into 1/4-inch pieces.
  6. Add oil to large soup pot and heat over medium-high heat.
  7. Add meat, onions, celery, peppers, and garlic to the soup pot. Mix well.
  8. Saute 5-10 minutes, scraping bottom of pan periodically.
  9. Add tomatoes. Turn heat to high and bring to boil.
  10. Add the 4 spices and stir to combine.
  11. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  12. Add cooked barley to the meat and vegetable mixture, stir to combine. Add more liquid if necessary.
  13. Cook over low heat for an additional 5-10 minutes to blend flavors together.
  14. Remove bay leaves before serving.

PER SERVING: Calories 363 (16% fat) Fat 7 g (1 g sat) Chol 20 mg

Sodium 1,466 mg Fiber 13 g Carbohydrates 64 g Protein 16 g

Tips:

  • If you only have a limited time to make this recipe, you can use Quick Barley instead of pearl barley. Just add the Quick Barley to the pot after adding the canned tomatoes, using the recommended amount of water on the box (taking into account that there is liquid from the canned tomatoes). You can either finish the jambalaya on the stovetop or put it all into a pan to be baked in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Try ham, chicken, turkey sausage, or shrimp instead of the turkey ham.
  • This recipe does well in the freezer if you have leftovers.

Food Budgeting Tips

jhartrick

In the past few weeks, I've been gathering together news articles about food budgeting, which has been a surprisingly popular topic. Articles in the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, and even The New York Times have been including tips on how to eat healthily on a limited budget - a skill that is particularly important in an economic recession. Studies have shown that those with lower incomes spend a greater proportion of their budgets on food. However, all of us could use a little help these days. The Detroit Free Press published an article last week called "Top 10 foods healthy for bodies, budgets" that is especially helpful. According to Robin Miller, host of "Quick Fix Meals With Robin Miller" on Food Network, there are a lot of foods out there that are both nutritious and inexpensive. Here are her top ten:

1. Pasta. Miller likes whole-wheat pasta because it's cheap and satisfying. "It's got more fiber, which is wonderful, but it also fills you up more quickly, so you're likely to eat less."

2. Canned beans. "Put them into soup or stew and they stretch a meal," she says. They're rich in folate and fiber. "A big bang for your buck."

3. Yogurt. "Yogurt is always on sale," she says, sometimes for as little as 50 cents per cup. Yogurt is a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

4. Canned tomatoes. Miller is never without this pantry staple: stewed, diced, petite diced, whatever. The canned version has more cancer-fighting lycopene than fresh tomatoes, and it adds flavor and color to soups and sauces.

5. Asparagus. Not usually considered a budget item, but vitamin C-rich asparagus in March is cheaper because it's in season.

6. Oats. "Cereal is so expensive. It's like $4 for a box of air," Miller says. Oatmeal is a hearty, nutritious and inexpensive way to start the day.

7. Brown rice. Brown rice has extra B vitamins and more fiber than white rice.

8. Almonds. Plain almonds are inexpensive when bought in bulk. Miller loves them to round out a meal with a burst of protein.

9. Eggs. Eggs are hard to pass up because of the price. "How many times can you get 12 things for a dollar? Never." Miller likes to make frittata for dinner. "It's a great, affordable, protein-packed food."

 10. Canned or pouched salmon. Fresh salmon is expensive, but salmon in a pouch has more calcium because it's processed with the bones.

As Mark Bittman puts it in his New York Times' blog, real food is simply cheaper than junk food. If you can learn how to be creative in the kitchen, you'll realize that home-cooked meals can be made for a fraction of the cost. If you need help learning the basics, there are plenty of cookbooks out there that provide good descriptions and great recipes. A few include "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" by TV chef Ina Garten, Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and "Cooking Know-How," by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.