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Program shows area families how to stretch food dollars to fight hunger

Children in the Center School District made colorful notes and pictures to express their feelings about the BackSnack packs of food they receive on Fridays to take home for the weekend.
Children in the Center School District made colorful notes and pictures to express their feelings about the BackSnack packs of food they receive on Fridays to take home for the weekend. The Kansas City Star

The Star is partnering with Harvesters again on a virtual food drive to feed Kansas City kids. To donate, go to FeedingKCKids.HarvestersVFD.org.

Carol Zagar stood at the electric skillet, stirring chopped onions in olive oil for a small audience.

A minute later, the beans went in. And a few minutes after that, a meal of black bean tacos was done. It took less than 15 minutes and cost less than $7 to feed four to six people.

Zagar, who works for University of Missouri Extension, uses recipes like this one to show families at the Raytown Emergency Assistance Program, or REAP, that home-cooked meals don’t have to be complicated and costly. Just a few minutes and a few bucks can go a long way.

“We want to help people learn to stretch their food dollars,” said Zagar, a nutrition program associate for the extension office. “We try to do recipes with food families would get at a food pantry.”

In Jackson County, one in five children is food insecure, meaning they don’t always have enough food at home. Many families rely on food stamps, and experts say they often aren’t enough to get a family through an entire month.

That’s why some families find it hard to get through some weeks with enough food. Especially healthy food.

And that’s why Zagar holds these classes at the Raytown emergency agency. At the center, staff and volunteers try to empower residents and families, not just give food or other assistance.

“It’s about helping, but mostly it’s about education,” said Holly Grimwood, assistant director of the Raytown program, where food classes are held throughout the year.

For the first half of Zagar’s class, she teaches a lesson. Then she goes into the kitchen with a recipe.

About half of the clients REAP serves are seniors. The rest are mostly families with young kids “trying to make it through the month,” Grimwood said.

Classes include lessons on food safety and portion control. Recipes are easy to make and often call for beans as the protein or a small amount of lean meat.

Some families, Zagar said, may think it’s cheaper to go to McDonald’s and get a $1 hamburger, small fries and a small soda. But for a family of four, that costs more than $12 for one meal.

“Just look at some of these,” Zagar said, motioning to an assortment of recipes for dishes like three-bean chili, quick quesadilla pockets and spinach meatballs. “You can see they can have a healthier meal for much less.”

To reach Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to lbauer@kcstar.com.

Feeding KC kids

This holiday season, The Star is again partnering with Harvesters on a virtual food drive to raise money for the area’s hungriest children.

All money goes to Harvesters’ BackSnack program, which provides low-income children with packs of food each Friday to tide them over until they return to school Monday. A $25 donation provides a child BackSnack packs for a month; $250 provides BackSnacks for a year.

If you would like to give, go to FeedingKCKids.HarvestersVFD.org. Or you can send a check to Harvesters, 3801 Topping Ave., Kansas City, MO 64129. You can donate in a loved one’s name, with reader dedications published in The Star’s Christmas edition. The deadline for dedications is 5 p.m. Dec. 21.

Black bean tacos

1 tsp oil (preferably olive oil)

1 medium onion, chopped

15-ounce can of black beans, drained

6 corn taco shells

4 ounces low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 head lettuce, chopped

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

Hot sauce or taco sauce

In frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Stir in black beans and heat thoroughly. Heat taco shells according to package directions. Spoon 1/3 cup of beans into bottom of shell. Add toppings. Refrigerate leftovers immediately.

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