Today we feature for the first time, Guest Blogger Stephanie Kellam! She is a student wellness coordinator in Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) in Texas and is part of the UnitedHealthcare’s Activate 4 Kids School Wellness Initiative. She promotes fitness and nutrition-related wellness initiatives throughout FBISD by partnering with community organizations and school nurses, teachers, and administration to help educate children and their parents about the importance of developing lifelong healthy habits. To learn more about Activate 4 Kids go to: www.activate4kids.com.
September was Hunger Action Month, a nationwide effort to unite food banks to urge individuals to take action in their communities to help end hunger in America. The theme for the Greater Houston area was “Hunger Bites, Bite Back” which carries a double meaning (that hunger is a bad thing, and has a painful effect on those who suffer from it), as well as a call to action: to help neighbors in need.
To understand the effects that hunger has on millions of low-income families, the Houston Food Bank suggested that individuals take part in the SNAP Challenge during one week of the month of September. During the SNAP Challenge, participants were asked to live off of the current average SNAP budget of $4 a day per individual or $28 a week on food and beverages. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, had to be included in the total spending. Participants were not allowed to accept food from friends, family or colleagues, including at receptions, meetings or parties. They were only allowed to eat what was purchased for the project.
When a friend told me about this challenge, I was immediately on board. In my role as a student wellness coordinator, I am constantly encouraging students and parents to eat healthy and integrate fruits and vegetables into their everyday diet. I try to be as aware as I can be about budgets and financial restraints because I often hear, “Eating healthy is so expensive.” I have always challenged that statement because a 3-pound bag of apples is equivalent to the cost of a large bag of Lay’s potato chips. However, I have never put an actual budget restraint around what foods I am suggesting – I had just been comparing healthy with non-healthy foods. I felt like with this challenge I would be given a fantastic opportunity to be forced into a budget and still attempt to stay healthy. I love a good challenge – especially when I can learn something. I was accepting this challenge so I could better communicate to the families I work with that eating healthy can be affordable – even on $4 a day!
Well I took the challenge – and survived – barely. I learned a lot from it including that you actually can eat healthy on $4 a day BUT it requires a lot of planning, preparation, and boredom. I had to think about my weekly meal plan in advance. I spent about two hours in the grocery store comparing prices, coupons, weekly ads, and nutrition labels. I had to prepare my meals every night and couldn’t take a break to pick up a salad from a restaurant or a to-go dinner at the grocery store. I also ate a lot of the same thing – black beans, brown rice, tuna, and lots of water. In fact aside from milk, water was the only beverage I consumed the entire week. I learned that in order to support the families I work with in my job, I need to provide them with user-friendly recipes and cooking techniques to assist them in the kitchen. Providing the families grocery lists with the required ingredients for the week would also be a huge asset for them.
In this world of convenience, we are often strapped for time and have limited knowledge on how to prepare certain foods. From this challenge, I have been able to better identify the needs of my community and deliver the support they need to succeed in healthy eating.