Food for Thought

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What’s for dinner? 
Food, choice and serving something delicious for dinner every night, is something many of us take for granted. Foodbank’s 2013 End Hunger Report is a timely reminder that a growing number of families are not so fortunate and have to turn to food relief to put something on the table. ‘Hunger in Australia affects more people than many realise, and families are increasingly relying on food relief due to difficult economic times,’ says Enzo Allara, Chairman of Foodbank Australia. ‘It only takes one unexpected cost or event to tip the balance.’ ‘Family circumstances have become the main driver for people turning to food relief,’ he says ‘with low income and single parent families the largest groups requiring assistance, especially for mealtime staples – cereals, fruit and vegetables, bread, meat and milk.’

These days, demand is outstripping supply. According to Allara, while Foodbank currently provides enough food for 88,000 meals a day, most welfare agencies say it’s not nearly enough as they don’t have sufficient food for the number of families who need their help. ‘Our traditional model of collecting surplus food from manufacturers and retailers is no longer able to meet growing demand, so we’re adopting new solutions, including arranging the manufacture of key staple foods and partnering with farmers for more fresh produce,’ says Allara.

We think it’s really heartening to see so many food companies providing generous support with dairy products, porridge oats, breakfast cereals, pasta, flour, bread, and meat – and good to see some nutritious, low GI staples like milk, oats and pasta on the list. But we gulped a little when we read that the major new beef initiative was designed to supply the charities with more than 130 tonnes of sausages a year.

Ask any doctor or dietitian and you’ll hear that a regular diet of sausages isn’t the best dietary choice for long term health and well being. It’s possibly one of the more disastrous choices. But sausages are something of a no-brainer in the charitable organisation ‘end-hunger’ scenario as they are cheap to make, popular with just about everybody, something of a comfort food and they come ready made so you just have to cook them, you don’t have to think what to do with them as you would with say, a packet of mince. But there’s still that big GULP. Tonnes and tonnes of sausages which are high in kilojoules (calories), saturated fat and sodium, linked to obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, are being given to people who are quite possible at risk already.

We absolutely agree that the first step is to put something on those dinner plates. We would like to see Foodbank and similar organisations take the next step, which is just as important, tell people the best way of cooking and serving them. We turned to our Taste of Health columnist, Nicole Senior for some sizzling tips to make sausages a healthier option for hungry families.

Sausages with vegetables

‘The best way to “healthify” the humble sausage is to reduce the amount per serve and fill out the meal with plenty of things we know are good such as vegetables, legumes and whole grains,’ says Nicole. ‘For example: add grilled sausage slices to pasta with vegetables and lentils; or vegetable and chick pea curry with brown rice; or vegetable noodle soup. Even serving a thin grilled sausage (or half a fat one) on a wholegrain roll with onions and coleslaw is a step up from the usual sausage sandwich. And of course you can cook sausages in ways that let much of the fat drain away, such as slicing them in half during cooking (grilling or barbecuing) and draining them on absorbent paper. And further up the chain, food companies need to reduce sodium and fat levels of sausages to reduce the effort and thought required to make them healthier. To improve the nutritional well being of everyone we need to make healthy choices easy choices’.

And if we could wish upon a star, we would wish that these many generous charities find the funds to teach their clients how to turn the food they receive into nutritious, balanced meals as well as ‘teach them to fish’ (so to speak), so that they are better able to feed and nourish their families on a budget when the crisis is over.