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Queens Chronicle

Healthy eating for those on a budget

Community network shows women what to buy at the supermarket

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:40 am, Thu Aug 8, 2013.

“How many of you see the advertisements for Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine and think that they are healthy options?” Maegan Ratliffe asked a dozen women in the dairy section of Key Food.

Almost half of the women nodded, unsure if their answer was correct.

“Well let me tell you that these frozen meals, whether it be Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice or anything, they are packed with sodium,” Ratliffe said.

The women were stunned.

Ratliffe is the director of nutrition for Community Healthcare Network and on July 30, she, CHN President Catherine Albate and fellow nutritionist Wilda Souffrant took a group of women on a hands-on tour of the Key Food grocery store, located just west of the Jamaica Shopping district.

CHN is a nonprofit that provides access to affordable and comprehensive community-based primary care and mental health and social services. Many of the women qualify for WIC or SNAP benefits.

“Everyone thinks a diet translates to I want to lose weight so I can fit into that dress or I can look better and really it’s about eating the right foods to stay healthy,” Albate said. “If you’re overweight or obese, you’re at risk of getting many, many diseases like diabetes or heart disease and cancer. Our nutrition campaign is about getting people to make healthy choices and to read the labels and stay away from the processed foods, but it can’t happen overnight.”

In New York City, more than 23 percent of adults and over 20 percent of elementary school-aged children are obese. Some of the highest obesity rates are in the low-income neighborhoods where CHN health centers are located.

“We want to empower low-income families to shop smarter and make healthier choices, enabling them to cook meals that are both delicious and affordable,” Ratliffe said. “Our aim is to teach our patients how to maximize the benefits they receive through public nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC, so that a family of four can eat well for around $21 a day.”

In an effort to promote good health and cater to women who cannot afford to buy organic, whole-food products, the group was challenged to only “spend” $150 to prove that a week’s worth of shopping can be done.

“Eating healthier and preparing your foods helps you be more aware of your intake,” said Gwendolyn Little, a client with CHN, who loves to eat vegetables now. If you break it down and you know it’s lettuce and tomatoes, its better than eating something that’s processed with supercalafragulistic or some other kind of chemical that we can’t pronounce.”

Additonally, CHN will be releasing a cookbook called “Everyone’s Plate” that will provide healthy remixes to favorite meals.

“The book takes meals that many of the women enjoy making that aren’t exactly healthy and shows them how to make them in a healthier way,” Albate said.

The book is available for download only on CHN’s nutrition site. Visit chnnyc.org for details.

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