Maximizing Nutrition on a Minimal BudgetPublished on March 14, 2016

  • Maximizing Nutrition on a Minimal Budget
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • Hospital Food Hot Pot
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • Tin of food
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

Hunger and a lack of food security is an unfortunate reality for many in our community. While almost everyone relishes an opportunity to sit down with family or friends to eat nutritious meals prepared with love, for many this is an infrequent pleasure due to rising food costs. Those living on low or fixed incomes are particularly vulnerable. In fact, over 850,000 Canadians use food banks each month, including 60,000 people in the National Capital Region.

Recently the Shaw Centre hosted the Loblaw 2016 National Kick-off. This is an annual convention bringing the majority of Loblaw operators and suppliers together for 3 days of meetings and product development. At the conclusion of the event, Loblaw and the over 100 participating vendor companies opted to donate the equivalent of approximately three 53-foot trailer loads of food to the Ottawa Food Bank and Moisson Outaouais, who in turn shared this bounty with scores of local organizations.

Our team at the Shaw Centre wanted to take things one step further, beyond donating our time to package up the food for prompt distribution. We decided to create a little recipe booklet to be distributed at the food banks; you can also find in on the Shaw Centre website. The booklet also offers some tips that anyone might find useful on making healthy eating a little more affordable. Here are a few of my favourite suggestions from the booklet, along with other ideas to help you maximize nutrition no matter what your food budget might be:

1. Stock up on staples. Many of the following nutritious, shelf-stable items are frequently on sale, making it even easier to stock up. Look for canned tuna and salmon, whole grain pasta, lentils, barley, dry or canned chickpeas, lentils, barley, canned or dry beans, brown rice, peanut butter, canned tomatoes, whole grain crackers, granola bars and oatmeal. You can also find many of the items in this list at your local dollar store, along with a good selection of spices to add a little flavour to even the most basic of meals.

2. Look at recipes that are flexible to serve (i.e., can be enjoyed several different ways). The lentil-chickpea salad below, for example, is great all on its own, or served on a bed of greens. You can also use it as a filling for tortilla wraps or stuffed pita sandwiches and you could even simmer it in a little bit of vegetable or chicken stock to make a rich, hearty soup.

3. Make your snacks count. Rather than reaching for empty calories that taste good because they are salty or sugary, think about more nutritious options. Home-popped popcorn with a dusting of chili powder, homemade muffins or even a handful of dried fruit are great choices, to name just a few.

4. Embrace the pulses. 2016 has been declared the International Year of Pulses; they’re a group of foods that includes delicious, good-for-you lentils, dried beans and chickpeas. They are all inexpensive nutritional powerhouses and we should all be incorporating them into our cooking as much as possible.

5. Skip the deli counter. Cook up a ham, chicken or roast on the weekend and slice the leftovers up to use in packed lunches.

6. Make big batches of soup, pasta sauce (which can be served over whole grain noodles, lentils or barley for a more-nutritious meal) and stew and tuck them in the freezer. You'll find you're less likely to reach for processed or pre-prepared foods because you've got a delicious, home-cooked meal already on hand.

This salad recipe is among the four included in our food bank booklet. It is quick to assemble and offers a tasty, nutritious way to feed your family.

Chickpea and Green Lentil Salad

• 1 cup drained cooked green lentils (red lentils can be substituted)
• 2 cups drained cooked chickpeas
• 1 large fresh tomato diced
• 1⁄2 fresh cucumber diced
• 1 stalk celery diced
• 1⁄2 fresh jalapeno pepper; remove seeds and stem then mince finely
• 1⁄2 red onion diced small
• 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
• 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
• Juice of 2 lemons
• 1⁄2 cup olive oil
• Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large stainless steel mixing bowl mix all ingredients except for the salt and pepper.
2. Allow to marinate for one hour.
3. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper accordingly to your personal taste.
4. Serve and enjoy. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to three days.

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