What do homeless teenagers off Del Paso Boulevard eat as they approach the doors of the Wind Youth Services place? A soda and a bag of chips usually bought at any given nearby gas station convenience store, most likely.
Teenage young leaders at Wind Youth Services– all of them formerly homeless are teaching classes in nutrition in health education programs for homeless and near homeless teens who come to the Wind Youth Services in North Sacramento.
These teens are paid to teach vulnerable teens health topics. The health ambassadors, as they are called chose to demonstrate healthy nutrition solutions as their top subject in health. The teenagers teach some of Sacramento’s most vulnerable homeless and near-homeless teens, some of them former foster kids who grew out of the system.
The teens are taught nutrition during the time these vulnerable teens spend at Wind Youth Services. To read more about the teens interviewed, check out the March 30, 2012 Sacramento Bee article by Grace Rubenstein, “Sacramento youth services center teaches nutrition.”
The lives these teenagers lead consist mostly of jumping from doorways to shelters to various couches, sometimes a different place each night, where there’s no place to cook healthy food on a regular basis.
Before they come to the Wind Youth Services location, many of the formerly homeless teenagers grab a soda and a bag of chips at gas stations. They don’t even have the money or sometimes the patience or courage to even sit in a fast-food eatery. There may not be any type of cooking utensil, refrigerator, or burner to cook with where they are when meal time rolls around.
Now nutrition is at the top of the list for the teens who teach healthy eating. These teens were formerly homeless themselves. In turn, they teach vulnerable teens in similar situations, and the nutrition and health ambassadors get some pay for their demonstrations on how to prepare and find healthy food when one is in such a vulnerable position as being a homeless or near-homeless teenager.
Homeless and near-homeless youth ages 11 to 22 come to the nonprofit’s center each weekday to study, shower, relax, eat a free lunch. A homeless youth center during the day can provide a meal. Also the teenagers find safe living support services.
The teenage health ambassadors, just six young people who once needed those services themselves now work as paid, part-time “health ambassadors.” Their job is to orient newcomers to the center.
It’s important that any teenagers coming in are connected to resources such as free food banks where they can get a bag of healthier foods. The health ambassadors also design and teach health education classes to other young people, their peers. The health ambassadors started at the roots by teaching healthier nutrition.
There are emotional issues vulnerable teens face such as safety and eating while homeless. Even if you eventually find a place to live, it’s important to find healthy foods when you’re moving all the time and don’t have any money. Health costs money. These teens need a place to unwind and find a good meal, food they can learn to prepare themselves.
A good idea would be for these vulnerable teens to grow their own food, but that takes time and urban gardens. For now, they can learn how to make a healthier smoothie.
Check out the statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless. When it comes to children under the age of 18, the figure is one in three in the USA. When it comes to hunger, one in five children go to bed hungry because they have no access to food.
On March 29, 2012 the young health ambassadors gave a nutrition class, their first, at Wind Youth Services, off of Del Paso Blvd. The class consisted of showing how much fat, sugar, and salt actually is found in the usual foods vulnerable, homeless or near-homeless teenagers eat when they grab that fast snack instead of a healthier meal.
The classroom had bowls demonstrating just how much solid fat, sugar, and salt were in those foods in the demonstration of what’s in those less healthy foods. The foods on display included fried chicken wings, candy, chips, or soda. The table had a bag of Doritos and chicken wings displayed. What the teens learned at that demonstration table was to read the ingredients on a nutrition label.
The kids were shown how to find serving size, calories, fat, and sodium levels on a package. Then the class turned to reviewing examples from fast-food burgers, cookies, and shakes from specific fast-food eateries. The demonstration included a look at a specific cereal and brownies. The name of the food and the fast-food eatery is named in the Sacramento Bee article.
One of the teaching tools, an excellent reminder focused on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 10 tips for eating on a budget. You don’t have to be homeless to follow these tips. Check out the USDA site, Healthy Eating on A Budget. It might be a good idea to practice eating on a budget and see how healthy the food ingredients can be when you’re on a shoe-string budget, neighborhood budget, or when you’re out of cash.
Check out the USDA’s site on these tips for eating on a budget which include the following suggestions for healthy eating. Share these tips with your family.
Healthy Eating on a Budget
Eating healthy doesn’t have to cost more. Use these tips and materials to help you make choices that are not only healthy but also economical.
- The 3 P’s – Plan, Purchase, and Prepare Food on a Budget
- The reminders help you stay within your food budget.
- Smart Shopping for Veggies and Fruits
- Get the fruits and vegetables you need without breaking the bank!
- Eating Better on a Budget
- These 10 tips will help you stretch your food dollars.
- Sample 7-Day Menu
- This sample weekly menu meets all nutritional needs at a cost below current average food costs
– A Consumer Economics Perspective
- Can people eat healthier and spend less money?
- Are fruits and vegetables so expensive that people cannot afford to eat a healthy diet?
- How can people actually know what foods are healthful choices and that they are likely economical as well?
Read a USDA Economist’s View: Nutrition Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
Also check these materials from other agencies:
- Eat Right When Money’s Tight
- 30 Ways in 30 Days to Stretch Your Fruit & Vegetable Budget
- SNAP-Ed Connection Recipe Finder
- Search recipes by various categories – including cost per serving or per recipe.
- Iowa State University Extension’s “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.”
The students at the Winds Youth Services center made a smoothie. But realize, homeless youths on the street will not have access to a blender and to healthy ingredients such as a variety of fruits, vegetables, yogurt, eggs, protein powder, and other foods that go into smoothies.
When you’re homeless, you’re faced with change daily, but at the same time find it difficult to make changes. Most of these teenagers do have access to the electronic more recent equivalent of food stamps. But who tracks the teens to see how they spend the food stamps and where?
Too many vulnerable teens keep going to gas stations to buy junk foods. They’re not buying fruit, canned food, or roasted chickens. They’re buying soda and chips too often. The reason why is they don’t realize all the options they have or don’t have.
If you look at the neighborhood around the Wind Youth Services center where they can get a lunch, there are few places they can shop for food when they walk out of the building. You’d have to take the light rail to a supermarket. According to the Sacramento Bee article, it’s a long ride — 20 minutes to a supermarket.
Many teens are too weak to walk for 10 minutes to a small market to buy expensive snack foods. These teenagers who may have grown up in foster homes or group care may be living on the street. They look for food they don’t have to cook — ready-to-eat food.
And how healthy can food be all the time when you don’t have to cook it? You’re limited to processed, usually sugary cereals where you just add a carton of milk, for example. Or the teens buy various types of small cakes and tarts or chips usually priced cheap enough and made from fried foods rather than baked food — starchy foods such as white flour, corn flour, or potato chips.
Even though the teens get a list of free food pantries around town from the health ambassadors, will the teens have enough money to ride the light rail or bus to get to those free pantries? Light rail passes are expensive for homeless teens.
And without a car, how long can you carry around a heavy bag of free food if there’s no place to store it? At least at the center, the teens are shown how to eat healthy and make a smoothie from foods that won’t contribute high fat, a lot of salt, and excess sugar to their meal.
It’s a good start to have formerly homeless health ambassadors teaching other young people like themselves how to eat healthier. It’s one good role model to follow as an example of how to make changes even when homeless or near-homeless. If only there were more jobs where teens teach teens that pay them to work part time.
At the other end of the age spectrum, there are plenty of seniors teaching seniors nutrition classes, but they’re volunteers and have had a lifetime to save enough money to be able to volunteer and still have a refrigerator and a stove to go back to. When it comes to teenagers on the street, more paid part-time jobs can also encourage kids to teach others how to be healthier.
Tips for eating healthy on a tight budget:
Buy store brands if cheaper.
Find and compare unit prices listed on shelves to get the best price.
Purchase some items in bulk or as family packs which usually cost less.
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables in season; buy canned vegetables with less salt.
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables, individual cups of yogurt, and instant rice and hot cereal are
convenient, but usually cost more than those that require a bit more prep time.
Good low‐cost items available all year include:
Protein — beans (garbanzo, black, cannellini)
Vegetables — carrots, greens, potatoes
Fruit — apples, bananas