How Nutrition Education Can Support Vulnerable Communities

The effects of the pandemic have hit our most vulnerable communities and aggravated an issue we can no longer ignore — hidden hunger. The economic impact of COVID-19 brought a new level of awareness to the issues of hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. as more families found themselves struggling to put food on the table. According to a recent global food insecurity survey commissioned by Feed the Children and Herbalife Nutrition under the Nutrition for Zero Hunger partnership, 73 percent of Americans experienced food insecurity – the lack of available financial resources to feed a household – for the first time due to the pandemic.

Summer can be a particular challenge for families in need as parents scramble to feed their children nutritious food. With children on break from school, they cannot receive meals that were previously provided to them. Nearly 30 million children rely on free or reduced-cost school meals, and not all can take advantage of feeding programs that schools set up in the wake of COVID-19. As schools across the country respond in different ways to the continuing health crisis this summer, meal programs will be unavailable or remain significantly compromised.

Now more than ever, it is critical that families have access to the nutrition they and their children need. Nutrition education can also help parents learn how to make healthy meal preparation fun for the whole family.

Why We Work Hand in Hand with Our Partners to Deliver Impact

Our community partners, including Feed the Children, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Ketchum-Downtown YMCA, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), and others, provide vital support to families who need assistance. These organizations distribute food and essential items directly to those who need the most help. In addition, we worked hand-in-hand with Feed the Children to develop twelve (12) sets of recipe cards which were added to 48,000 food donation boxes to encourage healthier food choices using affordable ingredients.

Working with Feed the Children to create these recipe cards helped ensure that we stayed true to our goal. We wanted to provide recipes that were keepers – ones that families would want to make again and again. These recipes also check all the boxes: they’re affordable, easy to make, nutritious, and family-friendly. According to Feed the Children, “From placing the recipe cards in our food boxes to sharing them with our supporters, we’ve found the Herbalife Nutrition materials to be a great resource for families.”

Additionally, as the old saying goes, “knowledge is power.” To that point, our partner NHCOA provides materials, resources, and education to empower older Hispanic adults to learn, act and adopt healthier habits. We’ve seen how accessible health information can motivate people to do amazing things for themselves, their families, and their communities and are proud to have provided a hundred older adults with our bilingual recipe cards.

Supporting NHCOA with healthy recipe cards

We made the recipes simple enough so that they would appeal to children and teenagers. Studies show that kids are more likely to eat foods that they prepare themselves and that this practice can encourage healthier eating habits overall. Younger kids can help in the preparation, while older kids can become involved with the actual cooking process. According to our partner YMCA, “as part of our Healthy Kids Week, we distributed the recipe cards to the families we serve to make healthy meals at home.” In addition, they hosted a cooking class for kids using our recipes while also encouraging kids and families to develop the healthy habit of preparing more meals together.

Fun and Simple Recipe Cards for Everyone

As a dietitian and a nutrition expert at Herbalife Nutrition, I focus on teachable nutrition moments. When families can spend time together to shop for, prepare, and eat nutritious meals, it’s an opportunity to promote nutritional health and overall well-being, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Eating well can be especially challenging for families who live in food deserts, where access to fresh and healthy ingredients may be miles away, and transportation can be challenging. If we can demonstrate to consumers that nutritious meals do not need to be expensive and help them understand how to get the most nutritional value for their food dollar, we can make a difference.

In selecting meals for our recipe cards, we considered that people are busy. Time is a vital resource for families with children at home, and for many, the last thing on their to-do lists is to spend extra time in the kitchen on meal preparation. We selected recipes that utilized nutritious and affordable convenience items, such as canned beans and tuna. We also focused on boosting intake of certain nutrients that are often lacking in the diet – such as fiber, iron, and calcium.

Recipes that Provide Nutrition and Satisfy Common Cravings

There is a common misperception that healthy meals are expensive or that they may not be tasty. To that end, we selected recipes that were healthier twists on popular foods that we know people like to eat.

Cheesy Pizza Beans Recipe

One example is Cheesy Pizza Beans, a dish reminiscent of pizza but much more nutritious. Protein-rich beans simmer in a tomato sauce, then are topped with low-fat cheese and baked. By swapping out the pizza crust for beans and boosting the amount of tomato sauce, the result has the desirable flavor of a pizza but is much healthier.

Garbanzo Beans Recipe

A recipe for Roasted Garbanzo Beans makes a snack that satisfies the craving for crunchy and salty foods but packs much more nutrition than chips. The beans provide plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, while chips are primarily fat, salt, and carbs. This healthy snack can satisfy cravings while providing good nutrition by utilizing an affordable staple ingredient like canned beans.

A Better Investment for Our Communities’ Health and Wellness

Through education, we hope to improve the nutritional health and well-being of children and families with a relatively small investment of time and money. In creating these recipes with our partners, the primary factors we wanted to address were affordability, convenience, flavor and use of staple ingredients. I hope that these nutrition education tools will help individuals and their families to make healthier choices.

Our partners nourish vulnerable communities by delivering a consistent supply of foods and resources to help children and families during this crucial time. The pandemic experience can be seen as an opportunity and a catalyst to be more generous in our efforts to better care for those in need. Whatever our “new normal” looks like in the future, widespread hunger should not be a part of the picture.

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.