This Lombard dietitian made pantry food nutritious for a month. Here's how.

  • Carla Schuit, a weight-loss dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, lived off pantry food for a month in an attempt to determine whether it's possible to make nutritious meals for weight loss from available items. She determined it is, with some creativity and strategy.

    Carla Schuit, a weight-loss dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, lived off pantry food for a month in an attempt to determine whether it's possible to make nutritious meals for weight loss from available items. She determined it is, with some creativity and strategy. Courtesy of Carla Schuit

  • Carla Schuit, a weight-loss dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, will present her findings from a month of making nutritious meals from food pantry food during a forum at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Metea Valley High School in Aurora.

    Carla Schuit, a weight-loss dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, will present her findings from a month of making nutritious meals from food pantry food during a forum at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Metea Valley High School in Aurora. Courtesy of Carla Schuit

 
 
Updated 7/5/2019 5:31 PM

A Lombard dietitian became a food pantry client for a month to determine whether it's possible to follow the weight-loss guidelines she develops for her patients on a food-bank-only diet.

Her answer: It is, with some creativity required.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Carla Schuit, a weight-loss dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, spent all of June sourcing her meals from three DuPage County pantries, along with what she happened to have at home and anything her colleagues brought to work to share.

Schuit said she learned there's a difference between what each client can take from a pantry, and what's actually usable. And there's a bit of deadline pressure with using pantry foods before their expiration dates or spoiling points.

But she said the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry, People's Resource Center in Wheaton and Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville largely offer the lean proteins and fresh vegetables weight-loss patients need to eat 15 grams of protein at each meal without too many carbohydrates or fats.

"I found that I could do what I set out to do," she said. "I could create the meals."

In some instances, Schuit made a variation on a classic, such as a peanut butter and jelly with sandwich thins for bread and dried fruit instead of jelly. In other cases, she mixed meats, such as ground turkey and bratwurst, to make a lower-fat burger and stretch her allotted food longer.

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From what she termed "My Food Pantry Project," Schuit created a handout that she's already shared with clients, offering a shopping list to help navigate pantry offerings and make nutritious choices.

She'll present her findings during a forum Aug. 10 in Aurora called Food Pantries: The Last Line of Defense. Hosted by the Obama Legacy Initiative, the free event aims to share the experience of relying on pantries with those who have the resources to buy their own food.

The event is at 3:30 p.m. in the forum room on the second floor of Metea Valley High School, 1801 N. Eola Road.

The Legacy Initiative -- a nonprofit volunteer organization separate from the Obama Foundation -- aims to create sustainable ways to eliminate food insecurity, said Fred Greenwood of Naperville, co-founder and president. Efforts started with creating community gardens and donating the produce and are expanding to strengthen food pantries for clients in need.

"They don't only need food, they need to be able to eat healthy, nutritional food," Greenwood said.

Schuit said she hopes to share the new understanding she gained of the challenge of pantry shopping. The hours are limited and difficult to coordinate with work. The locations are scattered and not necessarily quick to access. The food supply can be random, junk food-heavy and oddly insulting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's an interesting feeling when you're looking at your food options and you can see that it's like a mini jar of honey that was from someone's Christmas basket," she said. "You know it was someone's throwaway when you're grocery shopping."

Her advice to pantry clients: focus on nutritional needs and maximize allowed items.

"If they do have fresh produce, take that," Schuit said. "Take what you're allotted and then always get your protein in first."

Her advice to donors: put yourself in a client's shoes.

"Pick something that you would give to somebody's face or that you would want to receive with integrity," Schuit said.

Aside from Schuit's presentation, the Aug. 10 forum will include speeches from U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, two pantry executives and two representatives of the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Greenwood said he hopes participants will be motivated to grow their own food and to increase their donations to local pantries.

"They'll get a little bit of experience," he said, "as to how some people have to get their food to survive."

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