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Program stresses nutrition to low-income residents

6:51 PM, Oct. 20, 2013  |  Comments
Jim Collar
Jim Collar
  • Filed Under

Food pantries and meal programs throughout the Fox Valley work hard to ensure those with limited resources don't have to choose between eating or paying an overdue bill.

In the Fox Valley, and most of Wisconsin, efforts to tackle those ever-present needs have gone beyond providing supplies.

It's a matter of food, but it's also a matter of knowledge, said Paula Hella, a nutrition education coordinator with the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Post-Crescent Media's 18th Annual Stock the Shelves campaign is underway and will benefit more than two dozen Fox Valley food pantries and programs.

Hella coordinates nutritional education in Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago counties. The program aims to teach those in need how to get the very most from very little. She said families are most often receptive to the idea.

"They might set their own needs aside, but they really want to do what's best for their kids," she said.

Through the program, low-income families learn how to prepare nutritious meals. They learn how to properly plan for grocery trips and how to portion meals. Educators stress skipping coupons for items they wouldn't typically buy and making sure they're getting the best deal.

Education extends to the greater community. It's a generous region, yet she believes further strides could be made if we thought more of food as nutrition instead of merely items.

It's stepping away from the notion that "40 packages of Ramen noodles is providing 40 meals."

Those on the receiving end of donations would be better-served by vegetables, whole grain goods and protein-rich items such as canned meats. And clients are shown how to use what they have in healthier ways.

"When we talk to people who are eating those Ramen noodles, we're stressing, 'add a can of vegetables, or maybe add some meat so there's something there,'" she said.

The ultimate goal is health. Though its counter-intuitive to some, links have made between obesity and socio-economic status. The cheapest foods on the store shelves are often the least healthy.

It's a community issue. Obesity rates have fallen in some states.

"Wisconsin, though, has remained the same," Hella said.

When those in need get the biggest bang for their buck by virtue of education, assistance - whether from pantries or the government - goes further.

For some families, it's a continual struggle.

"They're looking in their fridge and saying, 'are we going to eat supper,'" Hella said. "It's not 'what are we going to have for supper,' but, 'are we going to eat?'"

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