A Start to a Healthy Year

Summer squash The beginning of the year is a natural time to think about goals for the future, and personally speaking, health goals always seem to be at the top of my list. In fact, many of us are realizing the impact of our day-to-day food choices on overall health, and the importance of being proactive in developing a healthy lifestyle. More than ever before, the time has come to do something about the behaviors that are contributing to obesity and other chronic conditions.

What will that mean for Loaves & Fishes, and how are we planning to support our community members who are having a difficult time just paying the bills? We are thinking holistically about health and wellness. Our Nutrition and Wellness program centers around four focus areas that help to build a healthy lifestyle.

CaptureThis diagram represents these four areas: (1) dietary supplements, (2) nutrition education, (3) distribution enhancement, and (4) support services that reinforce wellness efforts.

Through our Nutrition Supplement initiatives, I would like to dig a little deeper into the needs of our special populations. Over the last few years, Loaves & Fishes has been able to nutritionally strengthen the nutritive quality and variety of the foods we provide to our families – something that has been particularly important to our clients. We are also focused on the needs of school age children and infants, knowing that adequate nutrition during those critical years of development can make a difference throughout a lifetime. We will enhance those efforts for preschoolers, and even for our growing population of seniors.

ESLNutrition education is a cornerstone for changing food behavior, but an especially challenging area in many ways. Families experiencing chaotic and unstable circumstances in their life are not easily convinced that they can take control of their diet. These families are over-stressed, sharing the family car, running from one job to another, and still trying to please a toddler. We will need to put nutrition information at easy reach: in waiting areas, shopping aisles and registration points. We also plan to offer more traditional classroom education opportunities in areas of interest. Families who have struggled with food insecurity for long periods of time, even for several generations, are particularly vulnerable to diabetes, and chronic conditions related to improper diet. We have partnered with Midwestern University, Chicago College of Pharmacy, to offer free sessions about diabetes, and how to avoid this pitfall during the difficult times. Our first group discussions will start in January, and we’ll include free blood pressure and blood glucose screening for community members.

photo-smart2-webOur food distributions will be another opportunity to improve nutrition and reinforce healthy lifestyles. We will continue to look for ways to help our clients easily identify and choose healthy food items through our Smart Check program. We’ll be considering ways to offer a more comfortable shopping experience, present foods that emphasize healthier selections, and encourage healthy behaviors like menu planning. Our distribution process is a perfect point of impact for clients, and we will be taking full advantage of it.

Surrounding nutrition initiatives with other wellness efforts like healthcare sign-up, flu shots and dental clinics is a best practice model, and I’m happy to see many community members accessing those support services at Loaves & Fishes. In the fourth focus area, we will continue to promote healthful lifestyles, like growing your own garden, in the year to come.

All of these avenues collectively will build an environment of support and security for our clients and their families – and help everyone keep their New Year’s resolutions.

Jane Macdonald
Director of Nutrition & Wellness