Posts Tagged ‘staple food’

Eating exercise: Old Mother Hubbard NOW has food in her cupboard

May 28, 2010

Some of you may remember the photo essays from March and early April where we outlined an example hamper for various family sizes that were served by our program in October and November 2009. These essays discussed various aspects such as how our program operates and unusual foods in our waiting area, large donations of food that our program was able to distribute, baby items we are able to provide, and a special diet need to accommodate.

This blog is a twist on the idea of a photo essay. The essays provided an overall glimpse of the types and amounts of food available in a hamper, and a brief story on a family it was given to. However this blog is an eating exercise challenge! Below is a descriptive list of all the food items a single person could have received in a hamper on May 17th.

– One can of vegetable soup
– One loaf of white bread (not sliced)
– Box of instant oatmeal (8 packages)
– Two boxes of macaroni and cheese
– Box of wheat thin crackers (250 grams)
– One cup (100 mL) of yogurt
– One liter of goats milk (your choice of white or chocolate)
– Five pounds of potatoes (approximately 15 potatoes)
– One head of lettuce
– One cob of corn
– Head of broccoli
– Bag of (5) plums
– One can of salmon
– Bag of (5) sausages
– Bag of pretzels
– Single pepperette
– Bag of chocolate chip cookies
– 300 mL orange juice
– Banana pudding mix
– Head of celery

The challenge or “eating exercise” is to take a few minutes to envision that this is all the food you have available at home for the next few days. Think of how you might be able to stretch this hamper out in snacks and meals. Also try to keep in mind all the foods that you may regularly purchase or like to have available at home and are missing; or some of the cooking challenges you may encounter such as not having butter to cook with.

When I did the exercise I envisioned that I’d be able to get three days of snacks and meals from this hamper. However I had to be creative and plan things out carefully. I made a few revisions through planning to help make things last as long as possible. Planning out how to use this hamper is easy for me because I took the time to think about it, which I don’t envision a lot of our patrons may often do. Their lives are full of many other issues that demand their time, energy and attention such as searching for employment opportunities, dealing with medical issues, multiple appointments with caseworkers or other professionals, and many other time-consuming issues. So I can understand that having the time or energy to think about planning out a hamper may not always be feasible. However I feel like if I hadn’t made planning my hamper a priority, I believe I would struggle to find enough snacks and meals to keep me going.

Planning the meal list was easy though – for me the real challenge in this exercise was trying to accept the fact that I would be eating foods that I typically don’t eat or purchase like salmon, plums and broccoli. Though I’m not against eating these foods; I think it would be hard for me to feel satisfied after eating when I didn’t have much of a choice in the foods I had. From there I’d probably feel less motivated and energetic for all the things I need to do throughout the day.  I think this would then make overcoming the reasons that brought me to get a hamper more difficult than I could have ever originally imagined.

How many days of food do you see in this hamper? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Rice is a family favourite

April 26, 2010

There is a Japanese proverb from the Lord’s Prayer that translates to “a meal without rice is no meal.” Todays discussion of rice is the third piece in a series of patron reflections regarding staple foods such as pasta, potatoes, canned meat and fish, and peanut butter. On a fairly regular basis our program only has the supplies of rice to offer one 500 gram bag to families of three people or more. Therefore many families are often forced to go without rice for any meal or dish, which is very challenging.

“Hey, why don’t we get rice anymore? It used to be a big staple for me but now I can’t afford it.” – Single man, mid 50s

“Not having rice is pretty depressing…lowers your self-esteem and you don’t feel good about yourself.” – Single male, 40s

The fact that rice is a very nutritious side dish is one reason patrons stated that they enjoy having rice at home. A female in her 40s comments that rice is her families’ preferred choice for a side dish because the calorie and fat contents are miniscule. Rice is a complex carbohydrate which digests slowly in the body, so you’re able to hold on to the useable energy for a longer period of time. Rice is also low in sodium, high in protein and gluten free – it’s a healthy food that is appropriate for any diet.

Special diets are something our program tries to accommodate as much as possible. One father of 4 that I spoke to, who has his mother living with his family, is thankful for our supply rice as his mother suffers from Celiac’s disease. For his family rice is one of the easiest side dishes to accommodate her special diet while meeting the needs of his family. Most of the gluten-free foods are expensive, hard to find, and rarely donated in food drive collections. Therefore when rice isn’t available at home, “it’s difficult because you have to re-plan so many meals…try to accommodate five diets and then you’re limited on what you can do.”

“It can be easier to buy pasta and rice…When money is low fruits and vegetables fall to the bottom of a shopping list… they don’t last as long. When I buy lots of rice then I need to access food assistance for fruits and vegetables.” – Single female, 30s

“If you don’t have rice, you’re really poor. I think it’s one of the cheapest foods.” – Female, 40s

Many people accessing emergency food assistance are living with fixed incomes. Therefore it is hard to stretch the budget to find room for rice in between the need for fruits and vegetables, meat, and milk. A single mom with four children often feels like she can’t afford rice unless it’s on sale though; “It’s hard for me because I always try to make sure the kids don’t know there’s not a lot there, so I look through my cupboards and cook whatever I have.” Without rice her family has to find new side dishes and a different base for the lentils and beans they often eat.

“Well it’s not great…rice is a filler.” – Single mom with 3 kids, late 40s

“They miss the rice (when it’s not at home)…Rice is a basic food in my home country – you eat in the lunch and in the dinner – sometimes you eat for breakfast with eggs.”” – Female, later 40s

Rice is an essential food to many cultures including European, Asian and Central American. In these cultures most meals often incorporate rice into stuffed peppers, casseroles, side dishes, stir-fries, and much more. For one mom of three children rice is probably the most important food to have at home, as her husband feels like he needs to have rice with at least one meal every day of his life. But he’s learning to slowly adjust to not eating rice all the time since the family cannot afford it, which isn’t easy for anyone. “My family feels very depressed. I work full-time but don’t feel like it’s worth anything since I still can’t afford food. I develop illnesses because we don’t eat well.”

“Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook”Chinese saying

A potato makes friends in any dish and in any stomach

April 19, 2010

This article is the second in a series of posts based on staple foods, which include foods such as pasta, potatoes, rice, canned meat and fish, and peanut butter.  Previously I talked about “Who doesn’t love pasta?”, and shared what patrons had to say through a few questions I posed to them while they waited in our lobby.  Now it’s the potato’s time to shine! (Yes even though Emily wrote about potatoes through the whole month of February, we still have things to write about our friend the potato.)

“Potatoes can be expensive…so I borrow money or come here.” – Single woman in her 50s, who has raised 5 children.


Despite the fact that potatoes are one of the cheapest vegetable to buy, it doesn’t mean that a food budget always has the room to stretch to buy the smallest bag of potatoes. One of the largest groups of people accessing emergency food are those living with fixed incomes. Therefore, when it comes to the limited amount of money they have for food, it’s often a choice: do you buy more of foods like rice or pasta that won’t spoil? Or the perishable products like vegetables? What do you do when you don’t have the money to make that choice? That’s when people find themselves accessing emergency food programs to get the foods they need like potatoes and other vegetables, or they are left in a situation where they are forced to live without. (more…)

Who doesn’t love pasta?

April 12, 2010

For a week I took a few breaks during the day, from my regular role of helping people book in food hampers, to ask patrons some simple questions on staple foods that tend to make it into food bank donation bins. These are items  such as pasta, potatoes, rice, canned meat and fish, and peanut butter. I love pasta, which probably explains why I chose to write this article before one of the other four staple foods.

Pasta is a staple food in most households, since it’s such a versatile food item that can be incorporated into almost any dish or meal. Therefore, it’s no surprise that at the moment the Food Bank’s website lists canned pasta and macaroni and cheese as the top ten most needed food donations. The Food Bank is hoping to collect these items to meet the demand of more 25 000 people in the Kitchener-Waterloo who access emergency food programs and likely rely on pasta for a cost-efficient, quick to prepare, filling meal at home.

“What’s it like (when pasta isn’t around)…feels terrible…you have kids at home and nothing to feed them…pasta is a good cheap way to go.” – Male, 20s

For some pasta is a household favourite for a relatively cheap meal. One of the volunteers at our program reminisced back to a time when someone could purchase ten boxes of Kraft Dinner for one dollar. At that point in his life, this was very significant because Kraft dinner was a cheap food to keep his stomach full after he became injured and was unable to return to work. Pasta was the easiest solutions to get help him through such a rough time. “Now it wouldn’t kill me to not have pasta…but it’d be a disappointment…you get a hunger for that every now and then, you know?” So he continues to eat pasta to this day, but rarely Kraft dinner, and makes time to be more creative in how he prepares his pasta.

Pasta is a quick dish to prepare that you don’t have to add a lot of other food items to in order to achieve a great tasting meal. Time is never something anyone seems to have enough of and this likely reveals another reason that pasta is a staple in many households. A single man in his 50s had a great way to reflect on why he regularly eats pasta: “Working off and on is hard. You can’t always spend time cooking when you’re always out looking for work. You get tired and need something quick.” When you’re low on energy after a busy day, pasta is exactly that: a quick meal to prepare, or a tasty side dish to add to another meal that leaves you with a full stomach.

“When all you have is meat it’s like I’m only eating half a meal…you miss those sides, you know?” – Male, 50s

For a fair number of people, pasta is more of a meal than a side dish though. So things can become complicated when it’s not available at home. This involves re-planning some of your regular meals or going without a favourite food. A single mother of two boys mentioned that without pasta at home: “It’s a pain in the butt! Pasta feeds a lot and it’s cheap. It’s a heavy meal.” This leaves her searching, like many other families would be, to find another meal to fill their stomachs on a limited budget.

“Healthy food is quite expensive…pasta helps manage things in the best way.”
– Female in her 40s from a family of 5


“When you’re in low-income, you’re in constant survival mode…you don’t often have choices. You just use what you have.” – Female in her 50s from a family of 5