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Healthy cook-off proves tight budget doesn't mean poor diet

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Cook-off pits local chefs against each other. The goal? Teach healthy cooking techniques that won't break the bank.
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Schedule of Free Events

Wednesday, September 5: Poverty Simulation

4:30 p.m. — 6:30 p.m.

David D. Hunting branch, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids

RSVP Shelly Helmus by Sept. 1, [email protected]


Thursday, September 6: Healthy Food Cook-Off

5 p.m. — 7 p.m.

United Church Outreach Ministry, 1311 Chicago Drive SW, Wyoming

Contact Shawn Keener, [email protected]


Friday, September 7: Agency Open Houses

Agencies include local food pantries, Catherine’s Health Center, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.

Visit the hunGRy? Facebook page for a complete listing

Contact Emma Rosauer, [email protected]


Saturday, September 8: “Hunger Hits Home”

10 a.m. — 12 p.m.

Loosemore Auditorium, Grand Valley State University

Contact Ashley Abbott, [email protected]


Hunger Action Week is on Facebook and Twitter.

Eat fresh, eat local, eat healthy. Most Americans know what they should eat, but for low-income families, the question is how. On day two of Hunger Action Week 2012, the Healthy Food Cook-Off at United Church Outreach Ministry will provide some answers, along with some gastronomical object lessons.

The Cook-Off pits three chef/sous chef teams against each other in a competition to create the best healthy meal from typical food pantry items, supplied by UCOM, and an assortment of fresh, locally grown produce from the YMCA Veggie Van. For low-income families, food pantry items like rice, yogurt and canned corn are common enough; the eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and plums fresh from the farmers’ market may be more surprising.

Double Up Food Bucks, a program of the Fair Food Network, provides matching dollars to Bridge Card holders shopping at participating farmers’ markets. As Shawn Keener, program director at UCOM, explained, “Through the Double Up Food Bucks program, families can supplement what’s at the food pantry and really put together some healthy meals.”

This year’s chefs are Catherine Behrendt of WZZM 13, Mike Santo­­­ of Graydon’s Crossing and Jennifer Rees, author of The Big Binder blog. Though they’ll have a list of ingredients beforehand, UCOM will spring three surprise foods on them when they arrive. Extra points will be awarded for working the ingredients into their recipes. Michele DeSelms, news anchor at Fox 17, Oscar Valdez, UCOM volunteer and 40-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Erin Keener, pastry chef at Grove, Wendy Hammond, event and volunteer coordinator with Slow Food West Michigan, and Elissa Trumbull of the Fair Food Network will judge, as Monica Smith, a nutritionist from Michigan State University Extension, provides color commentary. All dishes will be prepared without expensive ingredients or outré kitchen equipment. “Basically what your typical family would have,” Keener said.

When visitors arrive at 5 p.m. on Thursday, they will be able to sample the chefs’ creations and cast their ballots to determine the winner of the people’s choice award. The chefs will present their plates to the judges at 6 p.m. Last year’s winner, Jason McClearen of Marie Catrib’s, is not competing this year, so the field is wide open.

While the immediate function of the event is to reveal how healthy meals can be made on a food stamp budget, Keener said, “the wider implication is that we really need, as a society, to eat better.” As our culture rediscovers the virtue of locally grown foods, Keener wants to see access to those foods continue to increase for low-income families.

The Healthy Food Cook-Off is free to the public, no prior registration required. United Church Outreach Ministry is located at 1311 Chicago Drive SW in Wyoming, Michigan.

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