This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.
Michigan Fitness Foundation’s (MFF) Eat Well in a SNAP website originally launched in December 2018 to help SNAP-eligible Michigan residents manage their food budgets during the government shutdown. But when the government reopened, Mary McGuire, MFF communications manager, aptly asked, “Now what do we do?”
“How can we apply this website to support people who are using SNAP, share information about the work we do, and provide even more resources?” McGuire asks.
In answer, MFF recently relaunched the site with even more information that can serve as a helpful resource for families long beyond the unique circumstances of the website’s creation. The project is funded by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed), an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives. As a State Implementing Agency for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, MFF offers competitive grant funding for local and regional organizations to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout Michigan.
Information on the Eat Well in a SNAP site falls under three main categories: “Eat Well,” “Be Well,” and “Table Talk,” with the stated goal of connecting people with support and inspiration for seasonal meals and recipes, resources, and conversations about food. The site relaunched, quite fortuitously, about the same time COVID-19 began impacting Michiganders with unemployment and stay-at-home orders.
“We pushed a little harder and got it up and running,” McGuire says. “We wanted to make sure that people who are qualified for SNAP benefits have positive resources to help them through difficult times. Eating fresh, locally, and seasonally are really good ways to save money and really good for your mind and body.”
The site’s Eat Well page shares meal ideas and links to healthy, easy, affordable recipes. While foodie and recipe blogs abound online, Eat Well in a SNAP takes a different approach. Recipes are available with less clutter, no ads, and easier solutions. They call for short lists of easy-to-find ingredients and are simple enough that children can help parents prepare them.
The Eat Well in a SNAP website's "Eat Well" homepage.
“Moms tell us they need more time. So we worked hard to provide quick, easy recipes and tips to help support busy moms,” says Marci Scott, MFF vice president of programs. “With the recipes on the site, you don’t have to have a ton of ingredients. You can make really great food with just a few.”
Scott says families are already “resilient and strong” on their own, but says “we can all use a little inspiration from time to time.”
“We all look forward to connecting with friends and family over a shared meal,” she says. “If you can find a recipe that sounds tasty and everyone is likely to eat it, you have hope that you are going to nourish your family and that’s important.”
The site’s “Eat Well” section also includes information on accessing food pantries and other free food sources in local communities.
“There is a misunderstanding that food pantries don’t have fresh food,” McGuire says. “Food banks and local farmers are really helping with that.”
The site’s Be Well page offers resources to help families improve their wellbeing, including a food budget calculator and tips on menu planning and grocery shopping. A link to the Michigan Farmers Market Association directory points users to large and small farmers markets in their communities that accept SNAP.
The Eat Well in a SNAP website's "Be Well" homepage.
While most people easily make the connection between nutritious foods and good health, turning healthy eating into a habit can be a challenge — especially in low-income communities where access to fresh foods can be limited and fast food seems cheaper and easier than cooking from scratch.
“SNAP is an important safety net for people who have very limited budgets to meet their basic needs. SNAP helps families stretch their food dollars to help alleviate hunger and buy healthier foods,” Scott says. “There are many misconceptions about the effectiveness of SNAP and the health consequences of poverty. People are doing the best they can. We are not here to judge. We are here to be a positive resource.”
The website’s Table Talk page provides a bigger-picture look at where food comes from and why eating more local foods is important by addressing food security, food systems, and food justice.
The Eat Well in a SNAP website's "Table Talk" homepage.
“We look at the entire food system and where we can have impact, from sustainability with soil and water to where your food comes from to food waste,” Scott says. “We are really fortunate to be in Michigan, where we have these amazing resources and local food sources.”
Eat Well in a SNAP’s creators hope the website will help families eat better and live healthier in the here and now, while also adopting habits that serve them the rest of their lives.
“When families prepare and eat meals together, talk about where food comes from, and make decisions about health as a family, children can carry what they learn from one generation to the next,” Scott says.