BRATTLEBORO—With the admonishment to “eat healthier,” including adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to one’s diet, people at any income level who are unaccustomed to preparing produce can feel overwhelmed.
What, for example, does one do with kohlrabi, even if one can even identify it?
For people on a tight food budget, there is little incentive to waste limited resources on food one cannot prepare, or will not like.
In Windham County, some accessible, affordable, comprehensive resources are available.
The Putney Foodshelf at the Putney Community Center offers free cooking classes.
“It usually happens the fourth week of each month,” said Patricia Field, executive director of Putney Family Services. Interested parties need not register. Field suggests simply showing up a half hour before the Foodshelf opens.
“They highlight something that is available at the Foodshelf and include the recipe. It is a very nice thing for recipients and a great way to have people try something they would not necessarily opt to do,” Field said.
The Putney Foodshelf is open Tuesdays from 6 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 to 10 p.m.
Brattleboro Memorial Hospital
Free cooking classes focusing on healthier foods, including fresh foods, are also available at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
The classes are part of the work of the Vermont Blueprint For Health Community Health Team that, among other things, offers clients the services of a health coach and dietitian/nutritionist.
This service is free for all patients, and Wendy Cornwell, director of community initiatives and Vermont Blueprint For Health project manager at BMH, said that the group works “with a fair number of low-income people."
Nancy Schaefer, of Health Care & Rehabilition Services, the team health coach, said that she and her colleagues work with clients to “address barriers to eating healthy” in a hands-on way.
“I wake up every day and think, ‘What can I do to help people eat better?’” Schaefer said.
She actively seeks out donations of blenders, food processors, and slicing mandolins to help her clients prepare fresh foods.
“The hospital buys a share [of produce] at the Neighborhood Market,” Schaefer said, referring to the seasonal Food Connects program at Brattleboro’s Green Street school that offers sliding-scale CSAs to people of all incomes in a farmers’ market-style setting. [See main article.]
“Each week, a different client family picks up the share so they can use it at home,” she said, noting that if getting there is a challenge for them, “I will transport the family if necessary.”
Schaefer sets it up this way to encourage her clients who are new to farmers’ markets to try them out, in the hopes that they will want to return.
Schaefer and her team also take clients grocery shopping to help them read and analyze nutritional labels. She prepares healthy snacks for clients in her office so they can try new foods before buying them.
“One example is kale chips. I make them right in my office” so clients can sample them, Schaefer said. “I work with them, to see what they like.”
For clients who cannot attend the group cooking classes, or who want one-on-one instruction, Schaefer visits them in their homes to teach them to prepare food in ways that will improve their nutrition and make the most of their budgets.
“I look at how much [they are] spending and suggest trading out a meat for beans or another inexpensive source of protein, or switch out one soda per week for some lettuce,” Schaefer said.
With advice also comes advocacy.
One of the issues Schaefer deals with is low-income folks who rely on food from food pantries and community meals.
For example, when her client is managing diabetes, Schaefer will call the organizers of the food shelf and ask them to omit cookies and other sugary snacks from the client’s bag of donated food.
“The food shelves have been working really well with us,” Schaefer said.