Dietician Andrew Akhaphong with student intern Sophia Wagner from Minnesota State-Mankato at Waconia United Food Shelf. A second intern Cat Daoheuang form Normandale Community College also is assisting and learning this summer. (Al Lohman/The Patriot)

When one has limited access to food it’s hard knowing what foods to select and what meals to make.

That’s the challenge of those facing food insecurity and why Waconia United Food Shelf has enlisted licensed dietician Andrew Akhaphong for guidance, according to food shelf director Angie Cruzen.

Akhaphong, accompanied by two student interns, was at the food shelf one day in June sharing advice on healthy food choices with clients and ideas for turning those items into delicious meals.

Akhaphong is employed by Mackenthun’s Fine Foods as a dietary liaison, providing help and advice to in-store customers and out in the community to other groups and organizations. Under a partnership with the food shelf, he is expected to return at least monthly to reach other clients who arrive to shop on different days of the week.

There’s a growing amount of fresh produce on food shelf shelves, but Akhaphong points out that like shoppers in general, food shelf clients don’t necessarily gravitate toward those items. He and interns tell shoppers why those foods are good for them and ways to make sure they taste good too.

While canned, frozen and boxed foods are convenient, they are not necessarily the best food choice, he said.

Mom told us to eat our vegetables, but not all of us listened and some don’t like the taste or texture. Turning them into a stir fry or masking them with a tasty dip are couple ways to make them appealing, student intern Sophia Wagner told shoppers.

She also shared a recipe for green bean casserole, which in some households is a holiday favorite. Meanwhile, fellow intern Cat Daoheuang brought a recipe for chicken corn tortillas.

Akhaphong said the goal to healthy eating is to make meals “nutrient dense” – to get “more bang for the buck” when it comes to nutrients versus calories. He points out that foods rich in nutrients and fiber can help reduce cholesterol and blood sugars, and help prevent diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Akhaphong and team will be highlighting a different item at the food shelf each month, and also help with the agency’s healthy meal kit, a full package of ingredients with recipe to help clients make a healthy meal. Businesses, groups or individuals ae invited to sponsor a kit monthly, he notes. Just go to the food shelf website to become a healthy meal kit sponsor.

Akhaphong notes that last month one food shelf donor even provided seedlings -- tomatoes, squash and cucumbers, so clients can grow their own meals or accompaniments.

In the future, Akhaphong and the food shelf might partner to offer cooking classes, and there could be opportunities for food shelf clients to get kitchen utensils like a slow cooker, for example, to enhance their meal making abilities.

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