Cooking healthy meals on a limited budget Rising food costs have exposed a need for education

After Edmonton Food Bank’s shocking realization that some clients didn’t know how to use the staple ingredients in their food hampers, the organization teamed up with Shaw TV Edmonton.

The result was Cook it Simple, a show hosted by chef Stanley Townsend, who was chair of NAIT’s culinary arts program for 25 years. The show’s purpose is to inspire Edmontonians to cook delicious and healthy food on a limited budget.

The plan was originally to film one episode, but that soon expanded to six episodes. Better yet, viewers can find full episodes on YouTube and recipes at edmontonsfoodbank.com. Find the recipes by going to the blog and searching under April 7, 2016 and Sept. 29, 2016.

“What actually sparked it was we had a client hold up a potato and say, ‘What do I do with this?’ ” said Mark Doram, director of operations at the Edmonton Food Bank.

This realization motivated the organization to find a cooking professional to help educate clients and the public on the endless meal options using basic ingredients found in a typical hamper.

The organization began their search at NAIT in the culinary arts program and found Townsend, who seemed a perfect candidate with his warm and jovial demeanour, not to mention over 45 years of experience.

Growing up in Dawson Creek with his four brothers, Townsend joked he quickly gravitated to the kitchen to ensure he was ahead of the line. He explained he’s always understood the necessity of feeding many on a small budget, citing porridge, turnip and moose meat as staples he grew up on.

“In our hampers they’ll get a lot of fresh produce,” Doram said. “For example, depending on what’s in season, they may get a leek,” a potentially new ingredient for some.

Townsend explained, “the message is that everybody can do this, that’s what I try to deliver in Cook it Simple. These recipes, they’re colourful and accessible, so anyone can cook them.”

Food security has become an issue felt by many with the rising cost of groceries. Cooking a healthy and tasty dinner can also appear to be a large task that requires excessive amounts of time after work. Townsend and the Edmonton Food Bank have tackled this claim by featuring three straightforward recipes using simple ingredients per 30 minute show.

David Berger, who was involved in the project from the beginning, said the decision hinged on building self-reliance and skills beyond dependence on pre-made and fast food. Berger explained limited incomes challenge many people to pragmatically stretch meals and maintain healthy eating on their incomes.

Ultimately, Townsend said, buying fast food ends up being more expensive because of the lower quality of ingredients. Sarah Halton, public health dietician noted convenience foods often use ingredients such as simple starches (potatoes and noodles) that don’t make you feel full the same way whole grains do.

Pre-made foods also cut costs by using fewer expensive ingredients like meat, which also make you feel full. These ingredients lead to needing more food to feel full. She agrees with Townsend that buying raw ingredients and cooking at home will save you money and lead to healthier, more filling meals. Halton added, “the number one way to save money is buy only what you need and actually use it.”

Townsend added, “Love food and love yourself; sit down, celebrate and share.”

Sierra is a communications student specializing in journalism at MacEwan University. She has a particular love of the art and culture found nestled in Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue communities and beyond.

onlineEXTRA – Find Chef Townsend’s turkey tips and recipes 

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Header image: Chef Stanley Townsend has been a teacher and mentor to many students over the years noting, “It’s not the mountain I’ve climbed. It’s the people I’ve helped climb the mountain.”| Sierra Bilton


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Sturdy vegetables

Pasta & sauces

Peanut butter

Beans and lentils

Canned meats (tuna, salmon, ham)

Sierra Bilton

Sierra is a Communications student specializing in Journalism at MacEwan University. She has a particular love of the art and culture found nestled in Edmonton's Alberta Avenue communities and beyond.

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