Staying healthy even in tough times
By Jennifer Corr
Laura Simmons of Syosset has been leading Just Say Yes, a nutrition education program designed for low-income families that is based out of the Long Island Cares — Harry Chapin Food Bank. The program is designed to prevent obesity and prevent chronic disease by promoting the need to have fruits and vegetables on the plate. The program focuses on those struggling with food insecurity or low income.
“Unfortunately it is true that a lot of the low-priced items you’re going to see at the grocery store [aren’t healthy],” Simmons said. “It’s a lot cheaper to buy a huge bottle of Coca-Cola than it is to get a 12-pack of bottled water. We want to teach the participants how to incorporate more fruits, more vegetables, more whole grains into their diet. By doing so, I teach nutrition education classes to the community.”
Simmons works just about anywhere on Long Island from Nassau County to Suffolk. She’s worked in Hempstead to Hampton Bays.
“I work at libraries, churches, senior housing facilities, food pantries,” Simmons said. “Alone, Long Island Cares has five satellite pantries. I work with all the food pantries and have my classes there. Every class, very important, comes with a recipe demonstration. Each meal can feed a family of four to six and it’s under $8.”
Incorporated in those under $8 recipes is often made with ingredients that can be found at local food pantries.
“Food insecurity has always been a problem, but it’s been so much more of a problem since the pandemic,” Simmons said. “I think people are starting to realize that, the same with homelessness and things of that nature… Basically the trends I would say relate to a chronic illness of some sort that the participants have, or a health concern, like diabetes, which is a chronic illness.”
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and overweight and obesity are often what some people struggling with low income and food insecurity can struggle with because of the amount of processed and unhealthy foods that are much cheaper than fresh ingredients.
And foods high in sugars, salts and unrecognizable ingredients, Simmons agreed, can perpetuate poverty by causing diseases and illness down the line.
“I try to steer my participants from the processed foods,” Simmons said. “I teach them tips and tricks about using cheaper items, like as simple as instead of fresh produce, I’ll tell my participants to buy in season, because it’s going to be cheaper. If it’s out of season, it’s not as fresh because it’s going to be shipped and outsourced. I promote my participants using frozen produce or canned produce.”
She teaches the participants to rinse, drain and strain frozen and canned produce or fruits to get the extra sodium off of it.
Simmons also teaches participants that the store brand is practically the same as name-brand and when grocery shopping, it’s smart to shop the perimeter of the supermarket instead of the middle.
“The most expensive brands are at eye level,” Simmons said. “You kind of have to maneuver around that. Go high or lower on the shelf and you’ll find the generic, discounted brands.”
Simmons earned a Bachelors degree in Science in Nutrition and Dietetics at LIU Post. She became a Certified Nutritionist and began her career as a Community Nutrition Educator at Cornell University, where she worked at the Cooperative Extensions in Nassau and Suffolk.
Her work expanded during the pandemic, when Long Islanders began to struggle after losing work or resources they would get at school or at senior centers. Now, Simmons agreed, even more people may need to utilize pantries and shop smarter as prices start to rise due to inflation.
COVID-19, Simmons said, is a huge example of how someone’s situation can change overnight.
“Long Island Cares takes huge pride in not only feeding the hungry, but also there’s so many different programs we offer,” Simmons said. “We help veterans. We help people find jobs. We do everything. I basically learn about something new we do everyday… Our motto is that it takes more than food to feed the hungry.”
How To Make A Fruit Pizza
Spread cream cheese on both halves of English muffin.
Top with fruit.
—Submitted by Long Island Cares
June Is National Fresh Fruits And Vegetable Month
Only 1 in 10 Americans consume the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
Here are some tips and tricks to increase daily intake.
-Try zucchini lasagna -Cook a veggie omelet
-Experiment with veggie noodles -Add veggies to sauces
-Blend into smoothies -Try a lettuce wrap or veggie bun
-Make a cauliflower pizza crust -Grill veggie kebabs
-Spice up oatmeal with fresh fruit
—Submitted by Just Say Yes