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BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog

Friend, Role Model, Teacher: Learning & Cooking Together

By Ivette Paulino

There was the shy one that didn’t make any eye contact with me, a stranger. There was a class clown making funny faces to make everybody laugh, and a sophisticated one that had a fancy posture while sitting and eating.

It was my first day at the Chelsea Recreation Center, the day I first met the after-school kids I would be teaching last summer as part of my CookShop for Teens (EATWISE) internship. As I entered the classroom, I was immediately able to recognize some of the kids’ personalities.

The first lesson of the Food Bank’s CookShop Classroom for After-School nutrition education program is “Meet MyPyramid MyPlate and the Food Groups .” The kids were busy eating a snack, so to get their attention I asked a question: “What are some examples of fruits?” The kids stopped eating, and hands shot into the air.

One little boy surprised me, raising both of his hands high. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Luke!” I felt Luke’s energy and enthusiasm, so I had to choose him. He answered, “Banana!” He had confidence written on his face – and on both of his hands.

Seeing how excited the kids were to answer my question, I felt so proud of myself for overcoming my fear of talking in front of a crowd and suddenly couldn’t wait to keep on doing so for the next six weeks.

When I started CookShop, I expected to learn a lot about food and nutrition. But I never expect to learn how to express myself with confidence, so that my voice can be heard. From that day on I was able to step up and talk to the kids as a friend, a role model and a teacher. And I hope I helped the kids see how fun and easy it can be to lead healthy lives.

Ivette is a senior at the Community Health Academy of the Heights, participating in our EATWISE internship for teens. EATWISE gives young people the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about what they eat and drink, and trains them to become peer nutrition educators.

New CookShop Curriculum sets the table with MyPlate

by Zac Hall

For this school year, the Food Bank’s CookShop Classroom for Elementary School curriculum is getting a fresh new makeover!

We always strive to improve our hands-on CookShop nutrition education program so that the more than 30,000 participating New York City children, teens and adults get the best possible education about how to cook and eat healthfully.

Our new CookShop Classroom for Elementary School curriculum focuses on integrating nutrition and food exploration into everyday, routine activities for children – if kids talk and think about new foods and food choices on a daily basis, it gets easier to keep thinking about and making healthy choices.

First things first: Where does food come from? Our new curriculum starts at the farm, so that children know exactly where their food comes from before it lands in a supermarket aisle or their refrigerator. Students also discuss common food sources in New York City (like farmers markets, grocery stores and bodegas) so they can make healthful food choices anywhere they find food.

This year’s curriculum will also focus on school meals, using the foods that kids are already familiar with in the school setting as an extra learning tool. . Students will identify the healthy foods on their breakfast and lunch plates, discuss their farm roots and learn about their nutritional benefits, so that their everyday food experiences become learning experiences.

Speaking of plates: Our new curriculum stars the USDA’s new nutrition icon, MyPlate. MyPlate encourages people to think about building a healthy plate at meal times. Each educational unit of CookShop features one MyPlate food group: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (and other plant proteins) and low-fat dairy products. The best part: after learning about these foods’ benefits, the kids prepare and taste delicious and nutritious recipes with them. Yum!

We are excited to start reaching a new wave of New Yorkers with our message of healthy cooking and eating! Check back throughout the year for first-hand stories from our students, teachers and Food Bank staff.

CookShop Graduation in an NYC Elementary School

by Matt Gustafson,

Just a couple weeks ago, in public elementary schools across New York City, approximately 28,000 students are celebrating their “graduation” from CookShop as the 2010-11 program came to a close.

The Food Bank’s hands-on nutrition education program, CookShop reaches low-income children, teens and families with skills and knowledge to help them eat healthy on a limited budget. At P.S. 76 in Queens, students marked the end of this year’s CookShop program with a special awards ceremony and celebration, which was a great time for the kids (and for me!).

Wearing homemade construction and tissue paper chef hats, all the students in CookShop Classroom for Elementary School filed into the auditorium. After a short introduction by teachers, the festivities began.

First, the performances. Three classes took the stage and sang “Parts of a Plant,” to the tune of “Wheels on the Bus.” A staple in the CookShop curriculum, the song helps students learn and remember — as the title hints — the parts of a plant. Next they belted out “Grow Your Plants,” set to the music of “Row Your Boat,” describing all the things plants need to grow. The performances rounded out with a play about the life cycle of plants, with students acting out the various components of plant growth: soil, sun and water. (Our curriculum also includes a very adorable dance to illustrate the plant life cycle.)

After each student received his or her certificate for completing CookShop, it was time for the grand finale: a game show in which students from each class showed off all their CookShop nutrition knowledge to their fellow classmates.

Principal Mary Schafenburg told me CookShop has had such a profound effect on the school that when it came time for P.S. 76 to become a magnet school this year, CookShop helped inspire their decision to focus on nutrition and wellness. The school’s theme, “From Seed to Plate,” educates students that food doesn’t come from the grocery store but from the earth (a lesson CookShop emphasizes, too).

As part of their new health focus, the school has a partnership with Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop garden students can visit and work in. The school is also in the process of building a greenhouse nearby. And most recently, they created a walking day in which all the students were given pedometers to chart how far they walk each day and promote activity and healthy exercise.

Matt GustafsonAll in all, it was wonderful to see the kids at P.S. 76 have such a blast and take pride in their CookShop learning, their cooking skills and their excitement about their future pursuits in healthy living and eating.

Matt Gustafson, Site Monitor, ensures the proper evaluation and implementation of the various CookShop components throughout the five boroughs.

Mario Batali & Food Bank Cook Up New Nutrition Initiative

By Josh Wessler,

This week, in a joint venture with the Mario Batali Foundation, the Food Bank is launching an exciting new nutrition and health education program, Community CookShop, at food pantries and soup kitchens across the city.

The Community CookShop pilot program breaks new ground for the Food Bank. For the first time, our nutrition workshops will pair parents and caregivers with their children to learn and cook together. Also a first, the workshops will be available at several of our member programs — food pantries and soup kitchens — in all five boroughs. And finally, it is our first time partnering with the Mario Batali Foundation.

The Food Bank and the Mario Batali Foundation share a belief in the power of hands-on learning to equip families for a healthier future. Based on that belief, Community CookShop engages whole families in practicing strategies to get the most food at the best quality for the lowest cost. Community CookShop is modeled on the Food Bank’s successful CookShop program, the largest provider of nutrition education in New York City public schools. Like CookShop, the new Community program will use hands-on activities to enhance participants’ skills for maximizing their food budgets, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preparing tasty recipes.

All recipes for Community CookShop have been crafted by internationally-renowned chef, author and restaurateur, Mario Batali, who is also a dedicated member of Food Bank’s Board of Directors, the chair of our Culinary Council and an active proponent of child nutrition. All of Mario's CookShop recipes use nutritious, affordable ingredients that are available in local stores and food pantries throughout the city.

"Having been on the board and working with Food Bank for over 10 years, I feel honored and privileged to partner with them on this important step towards improving nutrition education,” said Mario Batali. “The Food Bank's strong ties in the community will undoubtedly make huge strides for many deserving families in NYC and hopefully help lead the way for the entire nation.”

Lucy Cabrera, President and CEO of the Food Bank, said, “We are thrilled to partner with the Mario Batali Foundation on this important nutrition initiative. Thanks to the Foundation’s generous support, we will now be reaching even more families, in their own communities, providing them with lifelong skills to create and sustain a healthier future.”

The Food Bank’s integrated services — food distribution, income support and nutrition education — help New York City families keep healthful food on the table through the toughest times.

Josh Wessler is CookShop Classroom Associate at the Food Bank. For more information about Community CookShop or to get involved, email

One Billion Pounds of Need

By Dr. Lucy Cabrera

Dear Friends,

When the Food Bank For New York City’s Bronx warehouse and distribution center first opened in 1983, the Food Bank distributed 500,000 pounds of food in its inaugural year. This year, 27 years later, 74 million pounds of food moved through our 90,000-square-foot warehouse — the heart and soul of our organization. The juxtapostion between then and now is astounding. In 1983, organizers of soup kitchens and food pantries would carry bags of food from our then 30,0000-square-foot warehouse back to the communities they served; we had a network of 93 programs. Today, we’re delivering 350,000 pounds of food a day to our network of approximately 1,000 community-based programs throughout the five boroughs.

In 2011, our food distribution efforts have reached a milestone that deserves a great amount of attention: the Food Bank has now distributed one billion pound of food to our neighbors in need. ONE BILLION POUNDS OF FOOD!!

If we learn anything from this number, we learn that the need for support continues to grow. It’s simply not enough to collect and distribute food. The key is to go after the root causes of hunger. At the Food Bank, we are bullish on our ability to fuel programs that address the underlying problems that lead to hunger. We focus not only on food distribution, but income support and nutrition education as well.

We have also learned that the face of hunger might not look the way you expect. I have been with the Food Bank for more than 23 years and in this, my retirement year, I have been very reflective on those individuals and families we serve and the postive change we have been able to effect on their lives.

I think of Rosalind, a single-mother that was recently featured in Serving & Empowering New York, our 2011 video. Rosalind was a self-reliant music teacher before the recession stripped her of her career and the ability to provide for herself and her son. She relies on our income support programs to help pay her rent. I cherish the story of a visitor to our food pantry in West Harlem who didn’t know how to cook a zucchini until we taught her. She relies on us. I am warmed by stories of school children, some whom used to think a pepper was a pear and grew in bodegas. Now they understand the concept of farms, and healthful foods, thanks to our CookShop nutrition education program — we are the largest provider of nutrition education to NYC public schools for children and their families.

Through my reflections I have learned that we can all make a difference in the lives of so many. I urge you, stay committed and keep your resolve for this cause, you can make a difference no matter how big or how small, and we will continue to fight hunger together, one billion pounds at a time.

As Schools Close, Summer Meals Opens

By Roxanne Henry,

New York City kids have now been on summer break for a full week. While more than a million children across the city are most likely still celebrating their newfound freedom, for parents and caregivers who struggle to afford food, this can be a time of heightened anxiety and concern. To get the most out of limited food budgets, many families depend on free or low-cost school meals for their children when school is in session. It’s no coincidence that the summer months see a spike in need among children at food pantries and soup kitchens.

Breakfast at a soup kitchen.
But with approximately 825,000 New York City public school students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals, emergency food alone cannot make up the loss. The federally funded Summer Food Services Program (SFSP, also known as Summer Meals), however, provides a free breakfast and lunch at schools and other venues throughout the city, and is available to all children. Because too many families do not access the program due to a simple lack of awareness, the Food Bank For New York City works to connect low-income families to this great resource that helps keep food on the table for their children when school meals are not available.

To increase awareness and participation, the Food Bank:

  • Works with the NYC Department of Education to recruit members of our citywide network of soup kitchens and food pantries to help provide summer meals at their sites.
  • Provides information about the program, and the locations of SFSP sites to  all food assistance programs in our network, creating a broad outreach effort within New York City’s low-income neighborhoods.
  • Collaborates with a coalition of governmental agencies and anti-hunger organizations to aid in a citywide collaboration to expand the program.

The Food Bank’s goal is to ensure that as many children as possible receive free summer meals, which are also available at schools, parks, libraries, pools and other sites across the city.

For a full list of Summer Meals sites, click here. Wondering which site is closest to you? Check out our maps of site locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Queens. To learn more about the Food Bank’s comprehensive efforts to fight child hunger throughout the year, click here. Roxanne Henry is the Food Bank’s Community Outreach Manager.

Help Hungry New Yorkers by Pledging to Lose Pounds

by Ashley Goforth

As the Communications & Marketing Assistant at the Food Bank, I have the opportunity to hear about a lot of amazing opportunities going on to support not only the Food Bank For New York City but also the larger hunger relief community. My personal favorite are the ones that combine helping yourself and helping others in a quick and FREE way. Quick because time is a valuable asset (especially for New Yorkers, right?) and free because sometimes the only thing we can give to the causes we love is our support.

The Biggest Loser’s Pound For Pound Challenge is one of these opportunities. The Pound For Pound Challenge is dedicated to getting people to pledge to be bit healthier and lose a few pounds. It takes just a few seconds to select your state and your local food bank and take the pledge. And for each pound that you pledge for us, 11 cents will be donated to the Food Bank. Another great element is, if you are already at your ideal weight and fitness, you can pledge to maintain that weight and The Biggest Loser will still donate!

This is also great opportunity to help yourself. It’s an opportunity to make a promise to put your nutrition and health needs on your list of things to do this spring. The Food Bank is quite the advocate of making healthy choices. The Food Bank’s CookShop nutrition education program and our Change One Thing campaign all provide needed nutrition education to New Yorkers. And we are very proud to have won Feeding America’s Mightly Apple award for the most fresh produce collected for distribution five times in the past six years.

Aligned with our mission to provide New Yorkers with the tools they need for change – the Pound For Pound Challenge allows you to recognize that you want to strengthen your own nutrition education.

Who doesn’t love a free way to help fight hunger AND be active in your nutritional health? I don’t know about you, but to me it’s much more fulfilling to take the stairs everyday while reminding myself that I pledged to lose a few pounds in the name of hunger relief.

CHEFs for Schools, Inc. Cooks Up Volunteers for CookShop

by Alexandra Talbot

As the founder of CHEFs for Schools, Inc. – a tax-exempt nonprofit organization that strives to alleviate food inequality in underserved communities by training and placing student volunteers in worthwhile service opportunities - I am proud to support CookShop, the core nutrition education program of the Food Bank For New York City.

Since CHEFs’ inception in the spring of 2007, we have made tremendous strides toward our goals of improving food security, alleviating childhood obesity, and achieving food justice by supporting equal access to affordable and nutritious groceries. Our partnership with the Food Bank has been a major factor in reaching these goals.

I learned about CookShop while working as an intern at the Food Bank in the fall of 2008. CookShop is a federally-funded nutrition education program that helps children, teens and adults develop nutrition knowledge and cooking skills through hands on workshops. The program currently reaches approximately 30,000 New Yorkers, including students in more than 1,300 public elementary school classes and after-school programs.

I quickly realized the benefits of placing volunteers in CookShop Classroom for Elementary School, the program’s component for students in pre-K through second grade. Volunteers enjoy building relationships with elementary school students in underserved neighborhoods, and seeing the impact of their work as the children develop new skills and learn to make healthy food choices. By assisting the teachers, volunteers make CookShop even easier to implement, helping to increase the number of participating classrooms.

CHEFs helps recruit CookShop volunteers through a unique cultivation program in which university chapters offer educational, free and fun events that address bring students together around a shared interest in food issues. For example, the CHEFs for Schools’ Chapter at NYU offers free monthly cooking classes that unite and educate prospective and current volunteers around delicious, nutritious meals, while the CUNY Hunter Chapter will launch a food justice speaker series in the fall.

CHEFs aim is to recruit the most capable and motivated volunteers possible. The CookShop program requires no prior experience in public schools or food preparation, welcoming a wide variety of volunteers ranging from college students to working professionals. CookShop provides all volunteers with free training to improve their understanding of food preparation skills with elementary school children and demonstrate how to support a classroom during exploratory and cooking lessons.

I hope that you will join us in our efforts. Please take a moment to review the Food Bank’s various volunteer opportunities, including CookShop, and learn more about CHEFs’s efforts to impact food justice through volunteerism.

CookShop Launches in More Classrooms than Ever Before

As the holiday season draws near, we at the Food Bank have an additional reason to celebrate: the annual start of CookShop, which this year will reach record numbers of children, teens and adults throughout the city.

appleOur federally funded nutrition education program, CookShop helps teach low-income New Yorkers the skills and knowledge to make healthy food choices on a limited budget. Starting this December, approximately 30,000 New Yorkers – nearly twice as many as last year – will participate in hands-on workshops featuring fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

flowerIn CookShop Classroom for Elementary School, participants will find out about where food comes from (hint: it’s not the fridge or the bodega!) and use their five senses to explore food up close. Participants in CookShop for Families will learn helpful nutrition tips like how to plan healthy and affordable meals at home. But the best part of CookShop, as our participants tell us time and again, is the cooking – and, of course, the tasting! No one puts it better than Mossiah, an elementary student at P.S. 307K in Brooklyn: “I learned in CookShop that when we are done we get to eat food and it tastes good. It tastes so good. I said, MMMMM.”

We look forward to working with teachers and students in more than 1,300 CookShop classrooms in the months to come!

Food Labels: Healthy Habits on the Flip Side

by Erika Tribett

Picture a shopper scanning a row of cereal boxes. She zeroes in on a bright box featuring a smiling cartoon character – delicious and fun, it seems! What she may not know, though, is that the cereal is chock-full of sugar – which, consumed in high quantities, can lead to health complications like diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

How can the shopper figure out if the cereal is the healthiest choice? The answer is on the flip side: turn the cereal box over to check out the food's Nutrition Facts, which outline the food's nutritional story, including the number of ingredients, recommended serving size, and the amount of sodium and dietary fiber.

Information about how to make healthy food choices, including how to interpret food labels, is what the Food Bank shares at nutrition workshops for our community-based member programs and with participants in CookShop, our federally funded nutrition education program. Below are some of the label-reading tips we suggest:

  • Be aware of the serving size – even if that bottle of soda or bag of chips from the vending machine looks like one serving, it may actually be two. If so, you'll need to double all of the label values to see the actual amount of nutrients you are taking in. (Better yet, Change One Thing and go for a bottle of water or piece of fruit instead!)
  • Check out the first five items listed under "Ingredients." These "First Five" are the ones included in the largest amounts. Watch out for added sugars, salt and any ingredients you have trouble pronouncing.
  • If you can't read it, don't eat it. Try to look for foods that are made from natural ingredients.
By learning label literacy, our workshop participants are armed with the know-how to debunk packaging myths, and are better equipped to make healthier meal choices. Try out these tips next time you shop!

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