Neighborhood Nutrition Episode 8: Derrick Harrison

Katie Wisneski, MSU student and intern, talks to Derrick Harrison, community nutrition instructor about planning meals, shopping with friends or family to save money, using ingredients for multiple meals, and resources available from MSU Extension.

September 11, 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, we'll 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. Today we are speaking with Derek Harrison, a community nutrition instructor from Wayne County. Hello, Derek. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Derrick Harrison: Hi, how you doin? I'm glad to be part of this.

Katie: What do you enjoy most about your position?

Derrick: What I enjoy about my position is the interaction with the participants, on air programming, teaching food, teaching a lesson, engaging people and then, the good part is making positive changes. And usually, when a class ends, they say, "Oh, no, is it that time already for the class?" Because, normally,  classes are six weeks. So, I will say, it's just the interaction with the participants. 

Katie: Yeah. You suggest buying in bulk...

Derrick: It all depends, if you have a big family, let's say, of kids, that might be the best choice. Like, if the food is being consumed. But, a single person, I would say no because there might be, not to their best advantage, because they may not consume it a lot, and especially seniors, 'cause a lot of them don't cook or eat that much. But I will say, like a family of more, I will say that will probably be a better way because, over the long period of time they save them money and they can break it down. It has its advantages and disadvantages, in bulk.

Katie: Yeah. That leads me into my next question which is, if someone has a big family, what are some tips on how to be budget-friendly and still have healthy meals?

Derrick: For an example, they can do meals that  stretch maybe two days. They could do spaghetti, that's a meal that they-- they can eat off  two days. Chili, soups, they can also do salads. Quesadillas is another good meal they could save money on. It doesn't take a whole lot to make. They can get tortillas and make them out of colorful peppers and spinach. Basically, just planning each day, for the meals, like, in a setting like that, in a large family and stuff like that. Let's just say, if they make Meatloaf they can use the leftover Meatloaf and make that out of tacos. Something like that. 

Katie: Planning ahead, I think, is really important.

Derrick: Right.

Katie: Yeah. What can you suggest for people who live in an area where there's only a few convenience stores that have little to no healthy options, and the nearest grocery store, it can be difficult to get to?

Derrick: Well, that's a challenge. And I do know that most people don't have transportation where they live. And what I do, in my classes, is maybe suggests that they shop, you know, during a season with an open Farmer's Market and try to get things cheaper. Look at sales paper, maybe encourage them to pool with rides and get stuff on sale. The goal is to always, always try to get the healthiest food they can. I believe everybody should be able to eat healthy and have  access to the same food, you know, not buying stuff that's not fresh and outdated. One of the things that, that I do in my classes is we talk about, like, what are some ways that they can pool together and get to grocery stores and stuff. Often, some of them do catch the bus, or some of them have family members and stuff, because it can be challenging for me sometimes, you know, like where I live, I have to go outside the city and get stuff better, that's fresher, and, and the price is triple. So I understand that, the big areas, some of them, of having to go to certain grocery stores. But the main thing, what I try to emphasize, to emphasize: buy stuff that's on sale, if it's more  than that price, don't buy it. Maybe wait when it goes on sale and then, stuff like that. But there are some areas where there's no grocery stores, where people, maybe, have to buy like, in a convenience store, stuff like that. I try to teach them that most of the times when you buy in convenience stores and gas stations, those are not healthy choices because you see that food sits  there because it's not moving like a grocery store, where people come in and then constantly restock. That's not the case in that convenience store gas station. The food is terrible most of the time. We saw people don't want to go to the grocery store and just buy...that's not the best option for them. Another alternative is, like, pantries, if that's accessible, I encourage somebody to stock up on that, that can help, things like that. But that is a big challenge, so that's a good question. Yeah. 

Katie: Do you think that people in these areas should try to have like a little garden, if they have the resources?

Derrick: Oh, definitely because the food, growing  your own food is more fresher, it lasts longer, and, for an example, let's just say you grew tomatoes and spinach. If you grow your own spinach and tomatoes, you know it's fresh, you just picked it out your garden versus, going to a grocery store, we don't know how long it's sat on a truck before arriving there. And the difference between growing something fresh, it's vibrant, it doesn't break down as fast. And then they can have food  in the summer and cook it, preserve it, and can it, and stuff like that. So, definitely, yes. It is better to grow your own garden.

Katie: Yeah. 

Derrick: Yeah.

Katie: What is some advice that you have for coming up with meal ideas? A lot of times I think people may decide to eat out or get fast food to avoid having to come up with something and get all the ingredients for it.

Derrick: Well, I think first you got to assess what you have in your house. In class, I start it off with, I tell them is, think about when the holiday comes up. You already know what  you're gonna have, most times. You start planning ahead to buy stuff for your  meal for the holiday. And it's basically making sure that you have those spices, ingredients, like, staple items. Those are some  of the things we always emphasize in the class, like, things you should always have on deck in a household to make a meal, like beans, or vegetables, or different spices. Because, some of the same stuff that you may use may go in a different  meal, like Spaghetti and Chili, soup, and stuff like that. So, let's just say they're thinking about cooking baked chicken. Maybe, all they need is the chicken and then, what is the side they want to do. Maybe they want to do broccoli with rice and cheese. So that's a meal right there. Or, let's say they want to do a quick Skillet Lasagna. That doesn't take long, they can use egg noodles, that's something  they can always keep in the house, tomato sauce, onion, turkey hamburger or hamburger. And that's a meal right there. That takes less than 30 minutes. Or maybe they wanna  do White Chicken Chili, or something like that. So most of the meal-- the quick menus, that they can do at home is stuff that they already would have. And they could just do a quick meal in less than 30 minutes and stuff. And still be healthy and eat assets to my plate. And that's another thing. Does it try to include everything in the five food groups each day, throughout the day?

Katie: Yeah.

Derrick: Yeah. 

Katie: So basically, it's important to have a really well-stocked pantry when you can.

Derrick: Right, and especially during a crisis, what we're going through now, the pandemic, because early on we didn't have the options  to go out and eat, And, you know, this is a good way to get people to conserve and save money and be creative and think outside the box because we may not have those options to do like we used to do, so now it's forcing us to reinvent how we do things to eat healthy. We could  still eat the same type of food that our favorite restaurants, but we just have to cook it at home. People...I think that it's the perception that people eat healthy and it's real expensive to do it. We could just start simple, like a bell pepper. You catch them on sale, the red, yellow, and orange, and you can get a  bunch of spinach. And you can make an omelet. And you could do spinach and dice up the bell peppers and then you can have a veggie omelet. Let's start with a smoothie. Now, you can get smoothies, you can get blueberries, raspberries, that's not expensive, banana or if you want to do milk and juice, that's as healthy option. We could do a English  muffin breakfast sandwich you know, with veggies, you can make a vegetarian pizza, reducing fat and sodium. Oatmeal, that's a healthy option right there for breakfast. We can eat beans. Let's just say we decide to eat a meatless dinner. So you could do beans, you could do a  southwestern bean salad with black beans and corn. Corn chips still got some protein. We could do hummus, you can make it out of chickpeas, or you could do chickpeas with salad, or whatever. You can make a desert out of black beans, which we can make brownies and that's a healthy  dessert right there.

Katie: Yeah, I've  heard of that before. I've never tried it, but I've definitely heard of that.

Derrick: It's, it's easy to make, just grind the beans in the blender. And you could put applesauce and bakes just like a brownie.

Katie: Hmm...sounds good.

Derrick: So it's not  expensive to eat healthy. You could do turkey, you could do tuna  fish, things like that. So I would say that  it's more expensive to eat food that's not healthy. [laughs] You know, I'm saying junk food  and stuff like that. So it's not, you can eat oranges and fruits and stuff like that that's not expensive.

Katie: Mhm.

Derrick: You gotta start right there. You can eat wheat bread, it's overall healthy for us because, when we eat whole grains it makes us fuller. And it can even be, like, something simple like  popcorn, that's healthy. Most people would say, can I have the salt? I would say no, because that's not a healthy choice, but sometimes you can eat it in moderation.

Katie: Yeah, definitely.

Derrick: It's not expensive to eat healthy at all. It's cheaper.

Katie: What are some resources for someone that wants to learn how to cook or eat healthier and better budget their meals? Like some classes or resources that MSU Extension offers?

Derrick: Yeah. We offer a lot of classes for people who want to learn how to cook, like "Eat Healthy, Be Active," that's a class that's, I would say, for young adults to mature age. But really, you know, that class focuses on teaching you how to budget, teaching you how to cook with meals, teaching you how to modify recipes, teaching you, like, weight loss and stuff like that. We have "Eat Smart" lists, but that's really for seniors, it really focused on seniors. Because so many more vegetables, being strong, and stuff like that. And then on our web site, Michigan Matters, it has like different recipes I can look at. And with budgeting, we have a website where they can access information on how to get the best bang for their buck, teaching them the  unit price and things like that. Reading labels, which is a good thing participants should learn, because it can help them determine if this particular product is healthier or not by reading the nutrients, and the ingredients that's in the food, and stuff like that. I will say overall, all our classes in each week, we have lessons that will provide information where the participant, when they finish our classes, they feel comfortable with cooking healthy meals and budgeting and things like that.

Katie: Yeah, those all sound like really great opportunities for learning.

Derrick: Yeah.

Katie: Yeah. Are there any other words of advice in regards to food resource management that you want to share?

Derrick: Well, I think it's important that a  family, and not only just, families, that they understand their environment where they live. There's a lot of people who may not know their environment. And when I say that, it's like, know your resources such as when food is given out, and stuff. Are there any programs that help families like, that can help you if you don't have enough food to meet your needs, and stuff like that? Because, you know, I  keep referring back to now, this is what's really crucial. Be it, you know, like a lot of people, agencies out there getting food  out and stuff, and definitely kids that's out of school. So a lot of kids may not get the meals that they needed, and stuff. So, thins that's available. I would say just being knowledgeable about the different resources, what information is out there, because a lot of churches put things out on websites and different things and stuff and sometimes people might not be aware of that. But that would be the main thing, I would say, just being aware of what's going on in your community, who's giving out different things and stuff like that.

Katie: Mhm. Yeah, I agree.

Derrick: Yeah. 

Katie: And, what main idea do you want people to take away from our discussion?

Derrick: Well, the main idea, what I want people to take away from our discussion is there's, that Michigan State University Extension Health and Nutrition is a free program, I recruit and go to various places and teach the class. And we want to be known as being visible for people that's out there, that if they need a service or, want somebody to come in and show a community how to cook healthy, manage their dollars when they shop, and also I'm, I didn't talk about this much, physical activity. You gotta keep busy and walk and stuff like that. But I would say the main thing I want people to know is there is programs out here that can help people that need food. And then, like I said myself, I work for Michigan State Extension, we are a bridge to help different communities teach about cooking healthy for the kids, and we also teach youth, because I work in schools, and stuff like that because one day they're going to be citizens, adults, and have to be able to cook on their own. So, I want to, just, like, being a partner in  a community that I live in, and a city I live, to help my city to become more healthy and more productive. Because if we eat healthy, we can live longer, and we'll reduce chronic illness and things like that. Like a lot of people was probably in the dark over COVID-19, that you know, they gave us, more people was forced to cook because we couldn't come out. So I will say just being a resource and a  tool for the community.

Katie: Yeah.

Derrick: Yeah. 

Katie: Well, thank you very much for giving us your expertise, we really appreciate

Derrick: Thank you.

Katie:(continuing) the advice.

Derrick: Thank you, yep.

Katie: Yeah. 

Derrick: Yeah. Thank you.

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's 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 belief, 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, Jeffery 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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