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Q: What do I need to do to get a program like this working at my meal site?
A: It’s easier than you might think. Just plan and shop for one meal. If your guest numbers fluctuate over the course of the month, try it on a slower day at first. If you have the freezer space, we recommend that you use as many frozen vegetables as you can; both the look and the taste are fresher. If not, you can still make delicious meals with canned products. The Spinach, Beans and Pasta recipe is a good one to start with. It looks great and tastes familiar to a lot of people. We suspect that a lot of the ingredients you keep on-hand to make soup will work very well in these recipes.
Q: Does it have to be extra virgin olive oil?
A: Yes, extra virgin olive oil is the only type of olive oil with health benefits, and it is also the one that tastes best. We recommend people buy only extra virgin olive oil from California, as California has very strict standards for extra virgin olive oil. Two reputable brands that are sold in bulk are “California Olive Ranch” and “Corto.” As of this writing (May 2015), there are concerns in the U.S. regarding the purchase of extra virgin olive oil. The U.S. Government does not require imported olive oil that is labeled “extra virgin” to actually contain extra virgin olive oil. Much of the imported extra virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. is either old oil, or contains blends of other oils. These oils do not have the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
Q: Does anything need to be done differently on the days we serve Healing Food Project meals?
A: Educating guests about the recipes helps with introducing them. Some things you could explain: the meals contain extra virgin olive oil, which although it is a fat, it is a very healthy food; they will likely be full longer after these meals as fat helps to keep you from getting hungry between meals; you do not need animal or fish protein for a healthy meal; if you are using whole wheat pasta or brown rice, it helps to tell people that it does not taste like the refined version but should taste “nutty.” Guests enjoy bread on tables with extra virgin olive oil for dipping on days when extra virgin olive oil is being used in meal preparation. The table oil is donated by a local olive oil store, and breads are donated by local bakeries.
Q: Are there any additional costs to implement this program?
A: No. Extra Virgin olive oil is the key ingredient and basis for these recipes, and in fact, by replacing animal protein with starch foods as mentioned above, you may see a slight decrease in your meal costs.
Q: Should we introduce the program with guests?
A: Yes. As mentioned above, educating guests helps introduce them to the program. In addition, some guests may want to prepare these recipes at home. To this end, we have provided some single serving versions of the recipes on our Recipes page.
Q: Why do the recipes call for so much olive oil? I can sauté with much less.
A: The larger quantity of extra virgin olive oil serves two purposes. When prepared with lower, slower cooking temperatures, the oil becomes infused with much more of the flavor of the vegetables and seasonings you’re cooking. All that delicious oil then serves as the sauce for many of these recipes and makes the meals more sustaining.
Q: Do I need to defrost frozen vegetables before adding them to the recipes?
A: Larger vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or whole baby carrots should be defrosted so they don’t add as much liquid to your dish, but smaller items like corn, peas, cut green beans, etc. can go into the pan frozen if necessary.
Q: Where is the protein in the meals?
A: There is protein in all starch foods (pasta, rice and other grains; potatoes, beans), and vegetables. A vegan diet (which does not contain any animal product) has sufficient protein, so a diet with any animal protein contains more protein than one would need. Adding animal protein to meals means that you are exceeding your protein requirements. Extra dietary protein is stored as fat (we do not store protein as protein or muscle), so eating extra protein can lead to more body fat. Animal protein is also the most expensive component of a food bill. If you start to look at what you are spending on animal protein, you would likely be surprised that it represents such a large share of your grocery bill. Extra virgin olive oil, while more expensive than vegetable seed oils (soybean, safflower, corn, canola), is actually quite reasonable in price when you consider what it costs per tablespoon and certainly less expensive compared to including animal products.
Q: Does it have to be whole wheat pasta and brown rice?
A: While whole grain products are healthier than refined starch products due to their content of micronutrients not found in refined starch, you can use refined starch in any of the recipes. Whole grains are also related to a lower body weight and less weight gain over time. It is not known why they are related to a lower weight but we think it is because people eat less of them as they have a nutty flavor, while refined starch has a bland flavor. We will eat less of a food or a meal if there is a distinct flavor.
Q: I’ve heard that brown rice is tricky to cook. Has that been a problem?
A: Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, and can be harder to judge its doneness. We decided to use parboiled brown rice. It’s easy and consistent.
Q: Does it matter what type of beans I use in the meals?
A: The beauty of these recipes is that they’re very adaptable to whatever you have on-hand. That said, certain beans lend themselves better to different styles of cooking. Black and pinto beans work well with Mexican food, cannellini beans and chick peas with Italian, lentils and green beans in Indian.
Q: What role does the meal site Leadership Team play in this program?
A: All leadership at the meal site should understand the program and its benefits, as well as the implementation process. This will be helpful for initiating discussion among the food service staff, and other members of your organization. Leadership needs to work closely with the Kitchen Manager and Chef since these recipes may require sourcing some new ingredients and some changes to meal preparation.
Q: How do I get more information on starting this program, or to schedule a presentation?
A: For additional information on starting the program or to schedule a presentation, please email healingfoodsproject@mcauleyri.org.