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Local food shelf makes the healthy choice the easy choice

Eating right is easier with healthy food options close at hand. That’s why Family Pathways recently transformed the way it showcases healthy foods at its Forest Lake Food Shelf, which serves over 7,000 individuals per year. The new design and layout encourages clients to make better choices by improving the visibility and presentation of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and lean proteins.

According to the 2014 Metro SHAPE survey, an estimated 14,500 individuals in Washington County are food insecure. In order to make ends meet, many families turn to food shelves. Traditionally, food shelves were designed for non-perishable foods that came in boxes and cans. They simply didn’t have the infrastructure or funding to keep produce on hand or the staff training to manage perishable food items. But things are changing. Food shelves are increasingly offering a rich assortment of fresh and frozen produce, which provide important nutrients that help keep us strong, prevent short-term illness, and reduce chronic disease risk. As part of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, Living Healthy in Washington County is partnering with these organizations to improve access to healthy foods for all residents.

With SHIP funding, Family Pathways purchased a new three-door glass front cooler to better display fresh produce. Cardboard boxes were replaced with new shelving and brightly-colored baskets to store and display fruits and vegetables such as apples, peppers, and bananas. Across the food shelf, colorful, easy-to-read signage is used to highlight healthy food options. Family Pathways also displays recipe cards to offer guidance on cleaning and cooking nutritious ingredients offered at the food shelf. These enhancements capture the attention of shoppers and inspire them to try produce they may have never tried before.

In 2017, Family Pathways conducted interactive training with more than 20 volunteers and staff on strategies to help guide people coming to the food shelf to make healthier choices. Through training, volunteers are empowered to support customers in choosing, preparing, and eating healthy foods.

According to a survey, roughly two-thirds of participants found the training to be helpful or very helpful. Volunteers also expressed increased confidence explaining the importance of healthy foods at the food shelf and encouraging healthy options with clients. One volunteer said, “I didn’t realize that nudging clients to eat healthier could be so easy!”

Family Pathways plans to roll out similar strategies to its eight other food shelf locations serving residents in East Central Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.