Understanding the importance of sharing meals in strengthening family bonds, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (CCNLA) has developed a suite of services that ensures that clients not only have access to adequate food, particularly on a SNAP budget, but that they learn and enjoy the process of preparing and serving food as well.
CCNLA helps many people in need enroll in the SNAP program. Although intended as a supplement, SNAP provides the main source of food dollars for many clients, and unfortunately, they often buy foods that appear inexpensive, are overly processed and lack nutritional value.
No one understands this better than Gilda Rada-Garcia, CCNLA’s benefits enrollment specialist, which is why she and a group of volunteers began developing the Healthy Eating on a Budget Initiative as part of the agency’s financial education. This initiative helps clients see that healthy foods can be less expensive, more enjoyable and just as quick to prepare. They discover how to provide better nutrition for themselves and their families in ways that make the entire process more enjoyable.
Because the agency’s clients are diverse, the Healthy Eating options are as well. Trained volunteers conduct grocery store tours in English or Spanish, focusing on healthy selections like produce and whole grains and teaching clients how to read nutrition labels and compare unit pricing. The grocery stores support the effort, often giving incentives such as fresh fruit or gift cards to participants. The agency also holds biweekly nutrition and cooking classes to show how easy healthy cooking can be. A volunteer chef demonstrates how simple it is to prepare healthy dishes, often using fresh produce and herbs from the community garden on the agency’s campus. Clients also have the opportunity to work with volunteers in the common area of the garden or work one of the smaller individual plots with specialty items. Gilda is currently developing cooking classes for children so they may help prepare family meals.
CCNLA helps clients get what they need and also gain the knowledge to manage their resources in ways that benefit their families. The Healthy Eating on a Budget Initiative strengthens families by teaching them how cooking and eating together can be enjoyable for every family member and how instilling good practices can carry over into other areas of daily life.