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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Feb. 17, 2011                                               

                                   ASK AN EXPERT

                               AMY HABECK, NUTRITION EXPERT

                             How can people on low incomes eat healthy?

   Eating right shouldn’t threaten even the tightest of budgets, according to Amy Habeck, registered dietitian and volunteer with HCS Family Services.
   But she said it does require an investment of another resource: time.
   “If you can take two hours on a Sunday afternoon and make two meals for the week, that’s great. Or you can take 15 or 20 minutes (at night) to put some things together and have it ready for the next day,” Habeck said.
   Making space in one’s schedule to prepare home-cooked meals will help squeeze out the reliance on fast food or microwavable dishes that are high in fat and sodium, she explained.
   “When you’re starving, thinking about ‘What am I going to make for dinner?’, the fastest thing is what you’re going to do. If you’ve thought that through ahead of time, that will help,” Habeck said.
   With obesity and its related health issues getting more attention in recent years, Habeck senses an openness to change. In under-resourced neighborhoods, however, cheap processed food is often more accessible than fresh produce.
   “Think about if you had to do your grocery shopping at 7-11. This is the position that a lot of people are in,” she said.
   In most of the world, the diet of the poor consists of low-fat staples such as dried beans and rice. Habeck said all would be well-served to incorporate these simple ingredients.
   “Everyone, regardless of budget, should be trying to include dried beans and peas into their diets, just because of the effect it has on heart disease,” she said.
   She instructs clients with a slow cooker to make a week’s worth of three-bean chili or soup and freeze some for later.
   One of her most effective approaches is making meals using items available at the HCS food pantry.
   “Using the exact resources that they have, I will prepare something and have it there for sampling. When you show them that it can be easy and tasty, they’re willing to give it a try,” she said. “I do try to provide them with the first step they can take. I try to give them simple, executable things that they can do.”
   She tries to help people understand that over the long-term, processed foods are not only unhealthy, they’re uneconomical.
   “If that’s your every day, every meal, that’s expensive. And when you buy all of that, you can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Instead of buying a box of macaroni and cheese, buy whole wheat pasta and add some vegetables. I think that clients are always surprised that it can be inexpensive.”
   Canned fruit and vegetables are great in the off-season as long as they’re low in sodium and canned in their own juice.
   “You can get the same nutrition from those products, and they’re much less expensive than fresh,” Habeck said.
   She encouraged food pantry benefactors to donate with health in mind, including items such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta or cannellini beans in their generous gifts.
   Turning meal-planning into a family activity pays dividends, as Habeck has learned firsthand enlisting her kids to pick out recipes
   “I took the recipes to the grocery store and we bought everything together. They were so excited,” she said. “Cooking is a great math activity for kids. Getting your family involved takes some of the burden off of you and gives your kids the ownership.”

— by Ken Knutson


    Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between
The Hinsdalean and HCS Family Services, which works to
empower families and change lives.





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