Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps people feel better mentally and physically, though it’s not always easy. Many people face barriers to healthy eating, including not enough time, cost, a lack of understanding combined with conflicting information around nutrition, and taste preferences.
In places like Baltimore, with significant socioeconomic disparities and food deserts, diet has serious consequences for health and well-being. The Nova Institute for Health developed several model programs to address these barriers and empower community members with knowledge and tools to promote healthful habits.
In Five Times a Feast, a free six-to-eight-week cooking program, we addressed the most commonly cited barrier to healthy eating: a lack of time. This program taught community members how to plan meals ahead of time, cook in bulk, and freeze items for future use so they can make healthy meals for their family. Freezing food is a great time saver, and frozen items stay eligible eight times longer in the refrigerator without losing nutritional value. Out of time? Just grab a meal pack from the freezer, thaw in the refrigerator, and heat it up. Also, cooking at home can be much less expensive than eating out, which brings us to our second most common barrier to healthy eating: the cost of healthy food.
In Culinary Medicine Training, the first-of-its-kind core curriculum program equipping medical students with a more complete perspective on food and health, we shared tips for eating healthy in a budget-friendly way. Students learned that buying frozen produce, shopping strategically, being realistic about consumption, and using leftovers are good practices for both wallet and health.
When it comes to cost, buying frozen items is often cheaper and more convenient for meal planning. Before going to the grocery store, we advised students to take stock of what they already have. We also shared tips such as: only plan to purchase what you know you’re going to use and stick to that list; shop the outer edges of the store first, where you’ll find whole foods like fruits and vegetables; when in the center aisles, check products in the bottom row—the most expensive products are often placed at eye level.
Leftovers are great when on a budget and keep you from eating out on days when you don’t have time to cook. You can also reuse leftovers in different styles like stews, stir-fries, salads, and burritos to make sure you are still enjoying food. Which brings us to our next barrier: a lack of understanding and conflicting information around nutrition.
Our Mission Thrive Summer program, a five-week, hands-on experience that included farming and cooking, taught children the difference between whole foods (made from the earth) and processed foods (manufactured in a factory), and the related advantages of each. We advised children that, while we can’t always eat whole foods, when buying packaged foods, to try to ensure you recognize most of the ingredients.
Lastly, the final barrier: taste—eating healthy should not come at the expense of our taste buds! Not only are spices and herbs filled with health properties, they are also an excellent way to make dishes tasty and enjoyable. Our program Spice MyPlate taught high school students to use spices and herbs to prepare and enjoy nutritious and more wholesome versions of their favorite dishes for example—using cinnamon and vanilla extract to make dishes sweeter; cumin and turmeric are great for veggies; and for soups, stews, sauces, and marinades, basil and oregano accentuate the taste factor.
Through all of our programs, we encourage participants to experiment with different recipes and flavors to find what they like. The best way to make healthy eating a lifestyle is to make sure you enjoy what you’re eating!
We are working to make replicable curricula for all of our Mission Thrive programs, so they can be used across the country. To learn more about these programs, contact Project Coordinator Gabriela Piedrahita at firstname.lastname@example.org.