A recipe for success

Marjorie S. Miller
April 19, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Food insecurity – limited or uncertain access to fresh, nutritious food – is not just an issue for the stereotypical impoverished population, such as homeless people. The truth is, it can affect anyone.

For people dealing with food insecurity, fresh fruits and vegetables may not make it into the shopping cart because of the expense. At the same time, many low-budget foods, such as canned and packaged meals, contain high sodium and processed ingredients.

Penn State students want to fix this problem by helping to close the food insecurity gap in Centre County. They want to make healthy food available to everyone, regardless of financial status.

“Cheaper, canned foods are often missing valuable nutrients,” said Alex Close, president of the Student Nutrition Association (SNA) at Penn State. “That’s where we want to help. People are going to eat what they want. We found a way to get healthy ingredients into popular dishes.”

Members of the SNA are creating and distributing recipes to area food banks in an effort to make nutritious and affordable meals accessible to families in need. The goal is to provide families with recipes that are not only healthy, but also easy to make, realistic for the whole family, and affordable.

Each recipe uses ingredients commonly found in food banks, includes no more than a few ingredients, and requires no more than about 10 minutes of preparation time, Close said.

The project is funded with grant money from the College of Health and Human Development Alumni Society’s Board Small Project Grant program. The funds from the program have allowed students to create, print, and laminate the recipe cards.

The group visited the FaithCentre Food Bank in Bellefonte earlier in the spring semester, where they handed out the recipe cards and provided samples of one of the dishes. This was their second trip in the past year and the recipe cards remain at the food bank for anyone to take home at any time.

“The FaithCentre Food Bank is trying to go beyond just offering food,” said Nicole Summers, executive director. “We want to educate about food and nutrition. The SNA is really helping with that. Clients have loved getting samples and recipe cards. And the students have told me how much they enjoy doing it.”

The FaithCentre Food Bank serves about 800 families a month, Summers said.

“We wanted to reach these families,” Close said. “Many people who are using the food bank just want to feed their families. They may not be concerned about the health of the food. With these recipes we hope they find the food they want for a low cost.”

Some of the dishes the students have created include tuna pasta salad, black bean salad with brown rice, veggie and chicken macaroni and cheese, and black bean and corn soup. The recipes are popular family meals with added vegetables and other nutritious ingredients. 

The motivation for the project came from an extra credit assignment in NUTR 456, a community nutrition course in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, taught by Alison Gernand, assistant professor in the department, Close said.

The assignment was to create recipes for the State College Food Bank, using ingredients found there. Shawnee Kelly, instructor in the department, reached out to Close about doing a similar project for the Bellefonte area. After some brainstorming, the students decided to reach out to the FaithCentre.

“Through NUTR 456 we learned about food insecurity,” Close said. “I was shocked to learn that people who earn a minimum wage are having trouble putting food on the table.”

The project is also beneficial for students, Close said, because it gives them an opportunity to practice what they learn in the classroom, such as how to prepare healthy meals and educate the community about nutrition.

“We really enjoy doing it,” said SNA member Kelsey Fritz. “We’re hoping to keep coming back with more recipes.”

Black bean salad with brown rice 

(serves 5; serving size is 1 cup)


2 cups brown rice
15.5 oz. canned black beans, drained
15.2 oz. canned corn, drained
14.5 oz. canned dice tomatoes
½ cup of cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice


1. Cook brown rice according to package.
2. Remove black beans, corn and tomatoes from cans and drain.
3. Finely chop the cilantro and measure out ½ cup.
4. Combine the rice, beans, corn and tomatoes in a large bowl and stir together.
5. Then add the cilantro, olive oil, and lime juice while mixing continuously.

Click here to see all of the recipes created by the Student Nutrition Association. 

  • SNA Food bank project 2

    Kelsey Fritz, a member of the Student Nutrition Association, prepares a recipe for sampling at the FaithCentre Food Bank in Bellefonte.

    IMAGE: Kevin Sliman

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 19, 2016