Backpack programs

Nutritional food provided with nutritional information.

The national school lunch program provides children that are at risk of hunger with a healthy lunch every school day. These meals are offered at a reduced cost or no cost to eligible families so that students can be nourished and better able to focus on learning. But what happens to these kids during the weekend? Local backpack programs hope to fill this need.

Backpack programs are supplemental nutrition programs that provide eligible students with a bag or backpack full of nutritious and easy to prepare meals and snacks for the weekend. These programs are often individually coordinated by schools, churches or food banks and heavily rely on volunteers and donations.

Michigan State University Extension has collaborated with the Food Bank of East Michigan to provide supplemental nutrition information and health tip sheets to be sent home in the backpacks across 10 Michigan counties. During the first week of this initiative, flyers were sent home in 1,964 backpacks.

Surveys and data show there is high interest in learning how to prepare healthy meals and to better budget meals. Education funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) teaches skills that better able the low-income to overcome increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more. MSU Extension’s goal is to provide educational materials for parents, caregivers and children that are focused on ways to utilize the resources available to those in need of food dollar assistance so they can have better health outcomes. It is the goal that SNAP will increase this audiences’ understanding of nutrition, so that they can make wiser food choices and get more nutritional value on a tight budget.

We know that cost plays a major role in determining what foods are eaten by low-income families in our community. Through SNAP, low-income participants will learn tips on preparing foods that are low-cost and high in nutrition, often including an easy recipe to get them started.

For example, dried beans are nutritious, reasonably priced and often given out at food banks; the problem is that if people don’t know how to cook with dried beans they probably won’t use or purchase them, and the benefits are wasted.           

This collaboration is currently being piloted throughout northeast Michigan with the goal of expanding to other areas in the state.

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