By Jennifer Heinen

Homelessness remains a major issue among low-income families. An average of 1,258 families with children reside in motel rooms as shelter across Massachusetts[1]. Most of these families have limited access to food and little more than a mini-fridge, microwave, and bathroom sink to prepare a meal. With no real cooking facilities, preparing healthy meals is extremely difficult. Many rely on frozen meals and convenience foods, which can be high in sodium and saturated fats, and may not provide adequate nutrition.

Earlier this year Jewish Family & Children's Service, in partnership with Project Bread, responded to this concern by publishing Home Cooking without a Kitchen, a cookbook that provides twenty-one tasty and nutritious recipes that are budget-friendly, simple to prepare, and can be made without a full kitchen. This has been a welcome resource for families living in shelters.

We have been distributing cookbooks to homeless families at motels in many communities in Massachusetts. So far this year we have touched nearly 200 families at 15 cookbook distributions where parents and children can sample a recipe from the cookbook and see how easy it can be to prepare a healthy meal. So far the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic with many parents sharing that they were hoping for a resource like this.

At these cookbook distributions, we also have the opportunity to talk with families about the struggles they face trying to feed healthful meals to their children. Many parents are not aware they can prepare fresh produce, like potatoes or broccoli, in the microwave. Home Cooking without a Kitchen provides a resource for cooking almost any fresh food in a microwave, along with tips for making packaged meals and soups more nutritious. Children love the recipes, too. One child who tasted the apple chicken salad pocket declared, "I love this! I want to learn how to make this. I could eat it all day!"

With the support of private donors, we plan to continue this work and return to the hotel shelters throughout the year. As new families move in while they search for permanent housing, they will also be searching for ways to feed their family healthy meals. You can also contact with any questions.

Jennifer Heinen, MS, RD, LDN, is a licensed, registered dietitian for the JF&CS Nutrition Services program. Jennifer began her work at JF&CS as a Boston University intern during the early production stages of the Home Cooking without a Kitchen cookbook. She has a passion for educating and empowering others to make healthy choices easy and delicious. Previously she worked as an inpatient and outpatient dietitian and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. Her favorite food is avocado smashed on whole wheat toast.

[1] Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. Emergency Assistance Monthly Report, Statewide Summary August 2015.