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Frugally fabulous

Local chef uses items from food-bank box to create healthful recipes

Local chef uses items from food-bank box to create healthful recipes

August 19, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

With unemployment on the rise, more families are finding themselves in one grocery line they'd never thought they'd be in - the one at the local food bank.

Ed Kennedy is program director with Food Resources Inc. and also helps to oversee the distribution of food from the food bank at his church, LifeHouse Church Bethel in Hagerstown.

He explains that Food Resources, located at McRand Court, Hagerstown, is the warehouse that distributes to area food banks, including to his church.

Kennedy says he receives a monthly list of foods or goes online Food Resources has in stock. From that list, he places an order for food to put in boxes for the 70 to 80 families the church serves each week.

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"We've seen a probably a 30-percent increase in the number we serve," Kennedy says. "It's not only the unemployed, but it's people living paycheck to paycheck."

Items included in the boxes are usually meals that can be stretched such as spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper, bread and canned vegetables. Sometimes there is even cake.

"Food Lion also donates meats that we pick up once a week," Kennedy says.

The cuts of meat, Kennedy says, are usually manager's specials.

"We've gotten a good variety: chicken, steak, pot roast, lunchmeats and hams," he says.

Although they can't guarantee what meat is in the box from day to day, Kennedy says there is always fresh meat.

In the spirit of cooking shows such as "Top Chef," The Herald-Mail asked a local chef to take the food that Kennedy says is often found in a LifeHouse Church Bethel food box and create something nutritious and inexpensive.

Make it healthful

Lonnie Coble, executive chef at LJ's & The Kat Lounge in Hagerstown, says using prepackaged food from a food bank can be healthful and nutritional while still being inexpensive.

He whipped up two dishes - chicken cacciatore and Mexican braised boneless pork ribs - using ingredients commonly found in the boxes that LifeHouse distributes. And even those who don't qualify for a box of food can also learn to stretch a dollar with Coble's recipes.

"For four or five people, it can be done for $10," he says, noting that he purchased everything at the market.

Although in his kitchen, he prefers fresh ingredients over canned, Coble ventured to the local grocery store with a list of ingredients that Kennedy says are commonly found in his church's food-bank boxes.

"I haven't eaten canned vegetables in a long time," Coble admits.

The chef also went so far as to make sure items he picked up were within guidelines for the federal Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program.

Coble says it can be a little tough to eat nutritionally when using canned vegetables, because many have a high sodium and sugar content.

"Reading labels for nutritional facts are important," he says.

However, there are ways to make do with what you have and at the same time keep nutritional meals in mind, he says.

Knowing that mom and dad are often busy, the dishes are basically one-pot recipes and can easily be made in a slow cooker. "A Crock-Pot works great," he says, noting that it took him about an hour and a half to prepare both dishes.

A slow cooker allows a home cook to throw items in the pot and let it cook while he or she is at work. The dishes Coble made can be made ahead of time, frozen and then reheated later.

To help cooking time with the pork ribs, Coble suggests braising the meat a technique can also help with tough cuts of meats.

Coble serves chicken over pasta, while he served the pork over rice. Both add substance to the meal and can help make it stretch.

"Carbohydrates work well making one feel full," he says.

Coble says he was surprised to find out that many local farmers markets have Farmers Market Nutrition Program, vouchers for those who qualify and meet criteria. There are vouchers for WIC as well as a program for seniors. The WIC program runs June through October, and, in Washington County, the vouchers have already been distributed.

One way to stretch the family budget but still eat healthfully, he says, is by shopping for fresh veggies from farmers markets.

"It will help you make the food last as long as possible," he says.

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to any meal. Coble suggests when money is available, home cooks buy items like thyme, cumin, garlic powder, cinnamon or fennel seed.

And with childhood obesity in mind, Coble says next time, instead of shooing the kids from the kitchen, ask them to help.

"Getting kids involved teaches them healthy habits," he says.

Giving a helping hand

To qualify for a box from LifeHouse's food bank, Kennedy says a family must meet WIC income guidelines.

"Mostly it is people who are unemployed or underemployed," he says.

And to make sure that LifeHouse's food bank is used as a helping hand, not as a regular grocery stop the church limits a family's total use to six times. Kennedy says other food banks have different limits.

"We're basically there to help them over a hump," he says.

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