Monday, April 06, 2020

Short on...? Carry On: Part Three, The Food Hamper Gourmet (Archives Post)

First posted January 2007. Edited somewhat.

In the mid-1990's, I trained to be a Community Nutrition Worker. CNWs are “peer support workers” (rather than professionals). They’re usually hired by community centres or outreach programs to run co-op kitchens, do supermarket nutrition tours, and lead healthy-cooking classes. 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 training 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.) 
2020 Update: It tells you something about changing attitudes that, at the time I did the assignment, it was assumed that food hamper recipients would just take whatever they were given. I know that (at least under normal circumstances) our local food bank now operates on a "shop the shelves" system, allowing users to choose the foods they want.

Most of the recipes I used for that assignment came from a 1975 book called The One-Burner Gourmet, by Harriett Barker. (You can borrow it here.) I don’t know whether, 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. 

Contents of a Basic Food Hamper 
[The goal would be to have all these things in each box, but that would depend on the food bank's 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.

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.

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. [I think a dozen eggs would have been a good addition as well, but I was trying for bare necessities.] 

Food on hand: Mayonnaise-type 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.


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 mayonnaise

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.)


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.

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