Healthy Eating on a Budget: Cookbook Recipes Use WIC Items and Seasonal Produce

The Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook includes recipes that can be created with WIC foods.
The Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook includes recipes that can be created with WIC foods.

It’s a common frustration: eating healthy foods can seem too expensive and time-consuming. But does it have to be?

If you ask JuJu Harris, a bit of planning and revamping priorities can transform a frozen-chicken-nugget supper into a homemade, nutritious meal anyone in the house will appreciate.

That’s the idea behind Harris’s cookbook, The Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook, a collection of recipes designed to be prepared with a mix of WIC mainstays such as eggs, milk, cheese and beans, plus fresh, seasonal produce. WIC is a federally funded special supplemental nutrition program, which provides healthy food staples for women, infants and children (WIC).

Harris’ cookbook is distributed via the Arcadia Mobile Market, a roving farm-stand that brings sustainably produced food to underserved and low-income neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. area. The little market is one of many public health and nutrition efforts driven by the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, where Harris works as a culinary educator and outreach coordinator.

As is the case with most great ideas, personal experience fueled Harris’s cookbook project. She understands first hand the challenges of feeding a family on a small income. After a stint in Paraguay with the Peace Corps, Harris moved back to the U.S. with her new husband. Not long after, their home was filled with the hungry little mouths of their combined families six children in all.

“I had all these people to feed, so I learned to use the limited resources I had to make healthy meals,” Harris explains. “I knew it was possible. I made lots of soups and stews, and I baked my own bread. I grew an herb garden, and I hit up the wholesale markets.”

In the process, Harris realized that by eating more healthfully and taking care of herself, she was able to better care for her family. Along the way, she discovered that her approach to food yielded a houseful of well-fed, healthy children.

Harris acknowledges that healthy eating, garden-growing and cooking from scratch may be daunting for many people, which is why she urges people to “start small” instead of feeling pressured to figure out everything at once. That’s the advice she’s been giving to her group of fellow moms and neighbors for years women who have come to rely on Harris’ thoughtful approach to healthy, family-friendly cooking.

“Don’t try to learn everything all at once,” Harris says. “Pick a few dishes that you know your family really likes, or maybe even just one dish, and then spend the week playing around with it. Try different versions of it with different ingredients. So many of us learn from doing, and I think it’s important to give yourself the time to really figure out what you’re doing.”

Reprioritizing, Harris says, can go a long way in making room for healthy eating in a time-crunched, cash-strapped lifestyle. Instead of spending on hour on Facebook in the evening, spending it chopping, prepping or baking, Harris says.

“We make time for the things that are truly important to us,” she says. “[Healthy eating] can definitely require a shift in thinking, a change of routine. It takes some thought and planning especially if you’re used to just sticking something [frozen] in the oven and waiting 20 minutes for it to be ready. That’s why you have to get yourself comfortable with working ahead. Patience is so important.”

To learn more about the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, or to purchase a copy of Harris’ cookbook, visit www.arcadiafood.org.

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