Written by: Afaf Qasem, MS, RDN, LDN. Community Wellness Dietitian at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare
Are there times you or a loved one doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from? Have you ever wondered if money for food will last until the end of the month? If you have asked these questions, it may be because of food insecurity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
According to Feeding America the largest U.S. hunger-relief organization, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure in 2017 - this equals 40 million Americans, including more than 12 million children.
Data on food insecure rates that hit close to home - Gadsden (25%), Madison (22%), and Leon (22%) county are the top 3 highest food insecure counties among all other counties in Florida.
How can food insecurity and the stress it causes impact our lives?
- It can affect a child’s ability to learn and grow.
- It increases the risk for developing obesity due to a lack of eating a nutrient-rich diet and instead eating more “empty calories”- foods that have little or no nutrient value.
- It can negatively impact poor management of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, due to purchasing less expensive foods that are high in refined starches instead of vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.
- It can postpone receiving medical care or purchasing medication in order to buy food.
There are many groups and organizations in the U.S. that allow people to receive help for food insecurity. And these organizations need help to continue their work.
This is why Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare’s (TMH) Food and Nutrition Department is planning to stand up against food insecurity by helping patients, families and the community members we serve gain access to proper food resources. In the upcoming months and years, you will see us getting more and more involved to help alleviate food insecurity among our colleagues, patients and community members. We will be asking you for your help, too!
A way for you to get involved is by participating in National Nutrition Month. The Food and Nutrition Department is hosting their first monetary and food donation drive with America’s Second Harvest of Big Bend to benefit the School Pantry program. 100% of all monetary and food donations collected will benefit local children that have food insecurity and might otherwise be hungry at home. We would love your participation to help give back to the children in our community. Donations are accepted at the main hospital in Café 1300, the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center lobby and Tallahassee Memorial Metabolic Health Center (the only facility accepting donations until April 5th).
Whether you are food insecure or really just want to know how to save money while shopping for nutritious food, check out the tips below:
1. Check the grocery store circulars and coupons. We often times pass the entrance of the store where coupon books and magazines are placed. This may also give you great ideas on meals to make when you get home.
2. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are still nutritious. It’s more important to focus on eating the fruits and vegetables than focusing on where they are coming from. Try to choose low-sodium or no added salt canned foods.
3. If you want to purchase fruits and vegetables, look at a seasonal produce guide. Shopping in season will help you save money. Checking out your local farmers market is also a good idea.
4. Think about planning ahead. Try planning your grocery list ahead of time so you focus on what is on the list and not what’s in the aisles. We often purchase things we don’t need.
5. Try planning menus. Find a day of the week where you can plan your meals before you go grocery shopping. This does not mean you have to plan every meal, every day of the week. The idea is to start somewhere. Maybe start with planning meals for your busier week days?
6. Less eating out, more eating in. Often times, we forget that planning a meal in advance and cooking simple, easy and less expensive ingredients can help save money, especially if you are part of a large family.
For more information or access to our Food and Nutrition Resource pamphlet, please contact the Community Wellness Dietitian, Afaf Qasem, Afaf.Qasem@TMH.ORG.