Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Food Hamper Gourmet

[updated because I forgot to squash the bread]

A long time ago (when the Apprentice was a preschooler), I took some training to be a Community Nutrition Worker. CNWs are “peer support workers” (rather than professionals). They’re usually hired by community centres or other outreach programs to run co-op kitchens or other food-related programs. My career as a CNW was fairly short-lived, but I did learn quite a bit—not so much from the nutritionist who taught the course, but from the other women taking the training. Which is probably the way it should be.

One of the class assignments was to take the contents of an emergency food hamper and explain how it might feed two adults and two children for three or four days. (I think the original assigment was three days, but I wrote menus for four.) There were rules about including three out of four food groups in the breakfasts, and all food groups in the other meals. I don’t remember whether we were allowed to assume that there was any food already on hand or whether there was some cash allowed to buy a few groceries; but I did end up including a few other things which I noted.

I don’t pretend that this is as good as the Hillbilly Housewife’s emergency menu. In some ways, it’s not nearly as good. The food we were given to work with wasn’t particularly economical; it's mostly canned goods and other common food bank items, rather than the bags of flour and dried beans that the HH and the Deputy Headmistress recommend. It reflects a different need: using what you’ve been given, even if that wouldn’t be the smartest way to spend your own money; and (I’m trying to be careful about the way I say this), it also reflects the fact that a lot of food hamper recipients don’t yet have the skills to bake bread or deal with dried beans. Sure, I know those things are not hard to learn; but a lot of people who might be in the situation of getting a food hamper are still a bit intimidated/freaked out/uninterested by the idea of cooking food that doesn’t come in cans. [Update: again, that's not meant to be a condemnation, just an observation. I know there are plenty of very resourceful and savvy people who get into tight spots and need occasional help too.] That was supposed to be the aim of the food programs that CNWs might run at community centres or one-on-one: to gently introduce better economy and nutrition in a supportive environment.

Most of the recipes I used for that assignment came from a 1975 book called The One-Burner Gourmet, by Harriett Barker. I don’t know whether, ten-plus years later, I’d produce the same menus I did then. I wasn’t allowing for what I think of as the “ick factor,” meaning that some people would not care for the idea of mixing things together the way I did. Even in an emergency, I’m not sure I’d be able to eat canned peas straight up, knowing how relatively little nutrition they have for the amount of stomach-clutching it takes to swallow them. But this is what I came up with, plus my notes from then and now. Your comments are welcome.

Contents of a Basic Food Hamper (estimated for 2-3 days use)
[note that this is not a government assistance hamper but something put together by a local charitable organization; the goal would be to have all these things in each box, but that depends on the supply at any time]

Pork and Beans, 2 [cans] per person
Vegetables (Green and Yellow), 2 per person
Mac and cheese, 2 per person
Jam/Honey, 1 per hamper
Soup, 2 (cans?) per person
Juice (48 oz), 1 per hamper
Peanut butter, 1 per hamper (size unspecified)
Cookies, ½ (1/2 of what?) when available
Crackers, ½ (ditto?) when available (I guess they broke open the packages)
Fruit, canned, 1 [can?] per person, (fresh when available)
Potatoes, 5 lb.
Powdered milk, “1 per hamper” (size unspecified, I assume a supermarket-sized bag or box)
Margarine, “1 per hamper” (size unspecified, I assume a pound container)
Pasta/sauce “when available”
Cereal, “1 when available” (size unspecified)
Meat, “3 lunches, 3 suppers, when available” (kind of meat is unspecified—Spam? Tuna? Something not canned?)
Bread, “1 per person” (1 loaf?)
Donuts, when available
Buns, when available

Baby needs on request.

[Just for fun, I priced out the contents of the food hamper using the lowest local prices I could find. It came to approximately $55 Canadian (in the prices of ten years ago), which didn’t seem to be very economical for a weekend’s food.]

Grocery list: peppers or celery, onions (or dried onion), rice or pasta if they weren’t in the box, and tomato sauce if it wasn’t in the box. [Update: I think a dozen eggs would have been a good addition as well, but I was trying for bare necessities.] Food on hand: Mayonnaise or generic white salad dressing, salt and pepper.

We were supposed to suggest snacks, but there wasn’t a lot to work with beyond the obvious bread, crackers and cookies in the box. I said that if honey was provided, they could use it with the dried milk and peanut butter to make peanut butter balls.

Breakfast: 4 oz. juice (per person), cereal with milk, toast and jam or peanut butter

Lunch: Macaroni and cheese (2 or 3 boxes), with 1 can meat (Spam, tuna etc.) chopped in; 2 cans peas. (The One-Burner Gourmet suggests browning the Spam or similar product in margarine first, with fresh or dried onion if you have it, and then adding it to the cooked macaroni.)

Supper: Bean Chowder, made of 2 cans of pork-and-beans, 1 can of tomatoes or tomato sauce, a green pepper or celery, an onion, some margarine (to saute the vegetables first), and salt. Serve with bread (or toast) and milk.


Breakfast: 4 oz. juice; toasted peanut butter and jam sandwiches; milk

Lunch: 2 cans soup with crackers; sandwiches made with a can of fish or other meat, plus the mayonnaise or other moistener

Supper: “Lunch Meat and Noodles,” a recipe from the One-Burner Gourmet. You cook these things together: 1 can cream soup, ½ cup milk, 1 can of luncheon meat (cut in strips), ½ a green pepper, chopped (or celery), 1 tsp. dried onion (or some fresh), 1 can peas (use the liquid to add to the dry milk), and 1 tsp. salt. Simmer all this while you cook some noodles or other pasta (you could save out some of the boxed macaroni), and add this to the pot as well. Rice could be substituted. 2 cans of fruit for dessert.


Breakfast: Fried lunch meat and potatoes; toast; milk

Lunch: 2 cans pork and beans; boiled potatoes; bread, milk, cookies.

Supper: “Soup and Vegetable Chowder,” another One-Burner Gourmet recipe. The success of this would depend on what cans were in the hamper. The recipe calls for 2 cans cream soup, 2 cans chicken soup (like chicken noodle, chicken with rice, etc.), 2 cans corn, 1 can lima beans, 1 can milk (or dry substitute), salt and pepper. You are supposed to add everything together except the milk, simmer for 10-15 minutes, and then add the milk just before serving but don’t boil it. Dessert is something I used to make when I was younger; you cut the crusts off bread, [update: flatten each piece with a rolling pin or something similar], roll them up with jam or peanut butter, secure with a toothpick, and spread a bit of margarine on the outside. Bake them in the oven for a few minutes until they’re toasty. Not fancy, but little kids like them. (Think jam burritos.)

Saturday (the bonus day if the food holds out)

Breakfast: 4 oz. juice; cereal with milk; toast and jam or peanut butter

Lunch: Tuna and Green Bean mixup: A can of cream soup, a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, and enough milk to moisten; doubled if enough food is left in the box. Serve with toast and cookies.

Supper: Whatever’s left: could be potatoes, pork and beans, canned vegetables, and bread. Milk if there’s still some left.


Anonymous said...

A very well written and interesting article. Thank you.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

It reflects a different need: using what you’ve been given,

That is an important need to fill, too. When DH was enlisted in teh Air Force, we often got food baskets from various officers' groups. I was thankful for the baskets, but often astonished at the food that was in them, and of course, we had to figure out ways to use things we never bought.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I enjoyed the post, but I was really impressed with your avatar's coat. I think I'm going to have to get one of those.