Making Healthy Food More Accessible

This week, we continue our coverage of ASAP’s Healthy Eating in Practice conference held August 2018. One of the themes of the three-day event was considering all the barriers to healthy eating.

Though most of us don’t eat our recommended daily fruits and vegetables, some people face the additional challenge of eating healthy on a budget. It can feel like a daunting problem, both for people trying to gain access to nutritious foods and for people who are working to create a more equitable food system.

The conference highlighted practical ways that people can stretch their food dollars to create meals that are both healthy and flavorful.

A cooking class called “Staying Healthy on a Budget” brought these concepts into the hands of healthcare professionals. They learned tips for helping people navigate the food system, and tried some hands-on cooking techniques that they can share with their clients and patients. The class focused on cooking grains, greens, and beans—three nutritious foods that are inexpensive and easy to make.

Melissa Harwin, a registered nurse and co-owner of Highgate Farm in Marshall, North Carolina, prepares the beans in front of the class. At the same time, Sarah Reinhardt of the Union of Concerned Scientists talks about ways healthcare professionals can promote a more healthful, equitable and sustainable food system. She also offers practical ways to help people access nutritious, affordable foods.

She suggests buying grains and beans in bulk from discount grocery stores with the goal of always having something nutritious in the pantry. She also recommends frozen vegetables as an affordable alternative when fresh produce is not available. She suggests educating patients about programs like SNAP that can be used at farmers markets, and teaching them ways to cook delicious meals with ingredients from a food pantry.

These are good pieces of advice for people living anywhere in the United States, but there are some challenges that are unique to rural areas like Western North Carolina where transportation can be a barrier.

“For those folks who have access to their own transportation or to public transit, they can hit up the food pantries, they can go to the discount grocery stores, and then spend what’s left on some more premium products that are full price in the grocery store,” Harwin says. “For those folks who live out in very rural areas who may not have their own transportation, that can be more of a challenge.”

Transportation is a problem that can’t be fixed in a single class, but participants gained information that they can share with their patients right away.

Dr. Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti is a general pediatrician at Duke Children’s Primary Care and the medical director of the Pediatric Healthy Lifestyles Program. She picked up some practical tips in today’s class that she’ll share with the families she works with in Durham, North Carolina.

“One of the great tips from the chef here is that you can use whole grains to stretch meat out,” she says. “A lot of families think they have to have meat be the main part of the meal. You can still have meat be part of the meal, but it doesn’t have to be the bulk of it. I think a lot of my families will appreciate that because it will still taste good, it’ll save some money, and it will be even healthier.”

Find many of the affordable, nutritious recipes presented at ASAP’s Healthy Eating in Practice conference and learn about ways that healthcare professionals can foster a more equitable food system at

Aired: October 1, 2018

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