Neighborhood Nutrition Episode 3: Ken Kujawski

Katie Wisneski, MSU student and intern, talks to Ken Kujawski, community nutrition instructor, about food deserts, ideas for how to eat healthy while living in a food desert, and the Meet Up and Eat Up summer nutrition program.

September 16, 2020

Neighborhood Nutrition graphic - Title on top of wood background with fresh vegetables and pasta and the MSU Extension Logo.

Katie Wisneski: Welcome to Neighborhood Nutrition, a Michigan State University Extension podcast. This first season will focus on food resource management, providing you with tips and tricks for how to make the most of your food dollars. My name is Katie Wisneski and I'm a public health nutrition intern and student at Michigan State University. In today's episode, we'll be talking to Ken Kujawski, a community nutrition instructor in Wayne county. Hello Ken, thank you for joining us today.

Ken Kujawski: It's good to be here. Thank you for having me.

Katie: What does it mean to be a community nutrition instructor?

Ken: For me, really being a communion nutrition instructor is allowing me to go out into my community and really enhance the lives of individuals in that community. And let them know that even in the most trying times, you could still lead a healthy, active lifestyle and you can really learn anything through us.

Katie: Yeah. So, the community that you are in, are there a lot of food deserts?

Ken: Yes, there is a lot of food deserts in Detroit, specifically in the urban areas. I actually am working with a coalition over there called Brightmoor. They are a coalition deep in the food desert itself. They go ahead and make their own food there. They're really a local hotspot, especially for food. Really food deserts are urban areas that have a lot of difficulty obtaining fresh foods. And a lot of stores don't carry fresh foods, especially just regular convenience stores. Those really don't always have fresh foods.

Katie: Mhm. So, do you have any tips for people that live in a food desert on how they can combat the issues with them?

Ken: I do have some tips, yes. Mostly, I would suggest growing a garden. You can grow a garden anywhere. If you have a back yard, you can just grow your garden there. Set it up, put a little fence there, start growing your own food. It'll take a little bit of time. However, the reward you get, you get your own food, and you know that you grew it organically and don't worry about any pesticides or any extras in your food.

Katie: Do you know of any community gardens in your area?

[Ken] I do know of a community garden. It's called Keep Growing Detroit. It's more of a garden  resource program. So, if you're tending gardens or farms in Detroit, Hamtramck, or Highland Park, Keep Growing Detroit's garden  resource program is essential for helping with people that receives seeds, plants, and all kinds of other gardening essentials.

Katie: Can you explain a little bit about what a community garden is?

Ken: A community garden, it is a garden that's really taken care of by the community in a local area. Any urban area, really, many cities, dwellings don't have yards to plant a garden in or balconies or containers or anything like that. So, some cities are, got like vacant lots that the city hands over to the  community to perform the community gardens to help them grow and beautify the city.

Katie: So, basically, it's a garden that's run by volunteers, people in the community, and then they get to take home what is grown in the garden?

Ken: Yes.

Katie: And anybody can really participate in that?

[Ken] Within the community around that garden, they should be able to participate, yes.

Katie: Great, is there anything else you wanted to add, any other tips or advice?

[Ken] If starting their garden, my only advice really is to make sure we keep up on watering the plants. We got those humid summers, sometimes the plants get too much sun and they need a little bit more water, but make sure not to over water them. I know I don't have really much of a green thumb myself; I have killed a couple plants.

Katie: Yeah, it can be hard to grow garden, I've tried. So, if you have people that know how to and can help and teach that's definitely a plus.

Ken: Yes, definitely. Especially ask people who are more experienced than you who have a garden already. They will give you some of the tips and tricks of how they help grow their garden their area.

Katie: Yeah, for people that have not grown their own garden yet, and they can't get to the store to get fresh fruits and veggies, do you have any advice on how to keep their meals as nutritious as possible that involve little to none, fruits and veggies?

Ken: So, I, I did think about this quite a bit. So, for fruits and vegetables, they are really essential in our days. I suggest really stocking up when you can get to a store on canned foods because those canned foods, even though they have been  canned, they are still just as nutritious as regular fresh foods. So, get as many cans as you can and just plan out, really, it's very essential that you plan out when you are going to go to the store next so you know how many cans  you should have. So, you know you'll have those fresh fruits and vegetables coming in your way.

Katie: Definitely. Do you have suggestions for people that don't really know how to cook?

Ken: There are a lot of videos online that show you the basics to cooking. I know there are some videos where you see basic knife handling skills, basic cooking skills like for eggs, vegetables, some proteins are on there to cook and really show you how, they're all free. And it's always something to do. And if you can't do that, you always have neighbors, make sure you get a little neighborly with them. Ask them, hey, how do you prepare this? What kind of ingredients  do you use? It's always nice to know your neighbors too, so.

Katie: Yeah. What are some important things to keep in mind in regards to kids' health and nutrition, especially during the summer?

Ken: Well during the summer, I don't know about everyone else, but I do have a kid myself, and my biggest thing with him is I worry about his hydration and his snacks. The snacks I give him during the day, they're very, they're orange citruses', watermelon, we have cucumbers, they really keep his hydration up and also provide him with essential vitamins and minerals that our body doesn't make itself. So, I definitely suggest like keeping up with the hydration and what foods you're giving your child, especially during the hotter days.

Katie: Yeah, that's really important. You expressed that you have a seven-year-old child. Do they like to eat nutritious or is that a struggle?

Ken: So, my kid, he does like nutritious foods. I really started early with him, giving him different kinds of foods. Really, some kids do struggle though. So, what my suggestion really is, is go ahead and give them some of the power of choice of what they eat. And if you keep a good food environment, which is really keeping fresh foods or foods that are more nutritious out in front of them, they're going to choose those nutritious foods for most of the time. Or when you're going to the store, make sure you ask them, hey, what do you want to eat? They're going to pick it out together and you can always kind of guide them to the more nutritious foods and tell them about it. And they'll get more interactive with that experience, as well as cooking. You can always invite them to cook. You can have them stir, just get them really excited about the activity of making food, eating food, and even picking out the food. And that's really how you get your child to think about more nutritious foods instead of just getting all those snacks, because they'll have those skill sets that they have, the power of choice.

Katie: Mhm, good tips. What advice can you give to parents and children that relied on school breakfast and lunches? Are there still resources open for these children to get food during the day?

Ken: Alright, so a lot of schools are closed right now. And some of the schools are doing online resources and work. And with things opening back up in Michigan, a lot of schools are now opening up their resources as well to their communities, which means they're going to start serving hot lunches to those students again. So, I urge every parent to go ahead and call their school and see if they're doing the hot lunches and breakfasts, because those usually do come out even during the summer. So, I really just urge all parents to go ahead and talk to their schools.

Katie: Can you talk a little bit about the program, Meet Up and Eat Up?

Ken: Yes, so, the Meet Up and Eat Up meal program is where school sites provide breakfast and lunch for children under the age of 18 and younger. They do it Monday through Friday all summer long, and during some school breaks. It is run through the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. It works for hundreds of sites. Their goal in mind is to really help and improve the quality and availability of meals. Increase attendance sites for those schools, support the supplemental health, and they also provide wellness activities such as some physical education. If you're ever looking for a site, this is from their site, the unitedwaysem.org or you can text FOOD to 877-877 and they will give you a list of all the meal sites they do have  available through them.

Katie: Great, so is there a lot of sites then around Michigan?

Ken: Yes, there's a lot of sites all over Michigan. United Way is a national program. United Way for Southeastern Michigan does deal with mostly Wayne County; however, United Way does have other counties as well they work for. So, depending on the county, you should have a United Way in your area.

Katie: Great, where can people find out about food assistance in your community?

Ken: There are a lot of local organizations throughout the community that are a lot of non-profits. There is one that I know of it's the Detroit Urban League, they do a lot of WIC activities, they help there. You can always go to the Department of Health and Human Services. They do have a lot of community outlook there. And even within your schools, they do have staff that are really there for finding the local help in your area to help you out. So, you can always look at your schools as well.

Katie: What are some additional resources that you can suggest for more budgeting tips, and recipe ideas, and other educational resources?

Ken: The USDA has a lot of educational tips and they have some educational tips for kids as well so they can learn about nutrition facts. We at MSU Extension, we also provide free classes for budgeting, meal prepping, and also living a healthy lifestyle and make better food decisions. So, we also run classes like that for free for our local community. That's another way you can go ahead and get ideas for meals.

Katie: What is a meal that you enjoy that is not very expensive to make?

Ken: So, meals for me aren't really that expensive because I like the simple stuff. One of my favorite meals is broccoli, chicken, and rice, and actually kind of mix it all up together and throw a little cheese on it. It's perfect for me.

Katie: I love that, that's what I do a lot too.

Ken: It's so good.

Katie: And hot sauce,  I drench mine in hot sauce.

[Ken] You gotta drench it in hot sauce, hot sauce is the best. I have three bottles at home when I got from when I took a trip out before.

Katie: What about a favorite snack that's healthy?

Ken: My favorite healthy snack personally, I kind of like carrots a lot because I don't see too well, hence, the glasses. And carrots really have those carotenoids in them and that helps you see better. So, I'm trying to keep my eyesight as long as possible.

Katie: And what has been your favorite thing or activity you have done during this pandemic?

Ken: I actually do a lot of running since I do train for marathons, I run usually every other day, and I have been able to do that quite a bit during this time.

Katie: Awesome. Well, thank you very much for giving us your expertise, and we are very glad to have you on this podcast.

Ken: You're welcome, thank you very much for having me.

Katie: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Neighborhood Nutrition. We hope you tune in for our next episode. Funding for this podcast comes from the US Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, also known as EFNEP, and is from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Music used on this podcast is Champ de tournesol by Komiku and was accessed from pixabay.com. MSU is an affirmative action equal opportunity employer committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs, and the materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or veteran status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8th and June 30th, 1914, in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture. Jeffrey W. Dwyer, Director of MSU Extension East Lansing, Michigan 48824. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned.

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