Since my kids were big enough to sit in a shopping cart, they came food shopping with me. We made games of choosing the right foods, such as red day (looking for foods that were red in color) or round day (you'd be surprised how many foods and containers are round). Then we went home and talked about why those foods were so good to eat, and next we worked together on a recipe to show how great they could taste.
In a national movement celebrating food that's healthy, affordable and sustainable, the Food Day campaign reminds us to return to basics by eating real food. At a time when the art of the family dinner is often lost and replaced by eating on the run or skipping meals, Food Day encourages an important pause to help us think about the food we put into our bodies.
But even more than eating food from local sources and creating new recipes, Food Day shines a light on the children in the United States who don't even have the food they need to grow and flourish. The media often covers the staggering statistics surrounding childhood obesity, a problem that is far from local, reaching all corners of our globe – yet you may be shocked at the stats that highlight food insecurity and hunger in America:
• 14.5 percent of American households battle "food insecurity," which means occupants are unsure where their next meal is coming from.
• One in 5 children doesn't have access to a healthy meal on a regular basis. Undernourished children do not perform as well academically as well-fed children and have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems.
• 47 million Americans are on food stamps, which provides less than $1.50 per person per meal. Almost 22 percent of those on food stamps are under the age of 18. The three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs are SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; formerly Food Stamps), the National School Lunch Program and WIC (Women, Infants and Children).
During a program with Cooking Matters, a part of the Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in America, I was recently challenged to go to the supermarket and purchase a healthy meal for a family of four for less than 10 dollars. Even with a solid background in nutrition and dietetics, this was not an easy task. For over 20 years, Cooking Matters has empowered low-income families to make the most of their food budget and, as Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength says, "Make No Kid Hungry a reality."
Here's how Cooking Matters and the No Kid Hungry campaign have led by example:
• Connect children to effective federal nutrition programs like school breakfast or summer meals.
• Teach low-income families how to shop for the healthiest products on a budget and cook nutritious meals through supermarket tours and cooking demonstrations.
• Highlight the importance of childhood hunger in our backyard and what we can do to fight it.
• Build partnerships to achieve their goals.
• According to Cooking Matters, graduates of the program and WIC parents are able to get more out of their food resources, can identify healthy foods in the supermarket and participate in meal planning more often. They also learn how to make a dollar stretch.
Food Day reminds us to eat real, simple food, but also to give back to those less fortunate. As a part of Food Day 2013 today, I encourage all of you to find out what you can do to help end hunger in America and how you can set an example when you set your table through better food choices. Visit the Food Day website and Cooking Matters for real food ideas and recipes, or to see how you can get involved and perhaps provide a dollar that a family in need can learn to stretch.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.