In 2010, the Food Depository committed to ensuring one-third or more of the food we distribute every year is fresh fruit and vegetables. Since then, we’ve learned a few things, including that there’s more to distributing produce than simply putting it out on a table. Clients have to want the produce. They have to know how to use it. They have to be excited to try it.

During fiscal year 2017-2018, a new program engaged and informed clients about produce – and ultimately empowered them to take more fruit and vegetables home.

The “Healthy Cooking Initiative” was piloted at 37 Healthy Student Market school-based food pantries at Chicago Public Schools as well as the Food Depository’s 18 FRESH Truck sites.

At the distributions, Food Depository staff and site leaders provided clients with a recipe card and a sample of that recipe. The goal? Encourage clients to take home less-familiar produce items like squash or beets.

Stefanie, who receives food from a Healthy Student Market at her children’s school on the North Side, understands the importance of educating clients about the benefits of lesser-known produce.

“You get so much food at the school, but what’s the best way to cook with it?” she said. “How can you make that food into a dish people will want to eat?”

The recipe samples and cards at Healthy Student Markets reached nearly 4,000 households, including more than 7,000 children and 8,000 adults in fiscal year 2017-2018. At FRESH Truck sites, more than 150 samples and cards were distributed during the year.