Salvation Army campaign in Fort Worth is helping homeless eat more healthfully

FORT WORTH -- The Salvation Army is trying to add a little more nutrition to its homeless clients' diets.

The charity launched the Healthy Quarters campaign last month to provide healthful meals instead of the starchy and fried foods that homeless people are often served.

That includes incorporating more fresh vegetables and less processed food into lunches and dinners at the Fort Worth shelter as well as offering healthful-cooking and nutrition classes.

The classes acknowledge clients' financial predicament. Recently, they learned how to cook cheap, healthful meals in microwaves. Instead of frozen meals high in sodium, sugars and fats, they prepared squash and zucchini lasagna with no-boil noodles and omelets with spinach, green chiles and cheese.

"Obviously, when you are homeless it is hard to cook since you don't have a kitchen," said Katrice Goodman-Madison, a Salvation Army case manager. "That's why we teach that there are still ways to eat healthier. Clients are usually a little skeptical at first but then pleasantly surprised when the food actually tastes good."

Ideally, clients will keep their healthy habits as they move out of the shelter and into housing, she said. Homeless people have high rates of medical problems like heart disease and diabetes. Some have children to feed.

Client James Hicks, 47, said the fact that he is fast approaching 50 led him to sign up for the classes. The 2009 homeless census in Tarrant County identified 467 homeless people 51 or older and 86 who were 62 or older.

"A lot of us have medications we're taking, and it helps to know what kind of food you can eat while you're on them," Hicks said. "Those of us getting up there in years need to learn how to take good care of ourselves."

The Salvation Army bought a curriculum, which includes workbooks and online components, two months ago from a national company. The program takes a holistic approach and includes lessons on managing stress and personal relationships, Goodman-Madison said.

The program has a capacity of 40 people -- 20 men and 20 women.

Ashley Mullins, a registered and licensed dietitian from Baylor All Saints Medical Center, recently taught an hourlong nutrition class at the shelter. Among the subjects were differences between insoluble fiber, which improves colon function, and soluble fiber, which lowers the risk of heart disease, and how to read food labels.

Clients were engaged. One man in a T-shirt and glasses told her that he loves peaches but worries that the canned ones have too much sugar. "Peaches are in such short season here, I wish I could get them year-round," he said.

Another client seemed thrilled when Mullins mentioned the health benefits of beans.

"So you're saying chili is healthy?" the man asked.

"It can be if it is made the right way," Mullins said.

Hicks said the classes will help him and other clients take control of their diets rather than rely only on what others serve them.

"Usually, you just feel like you can only eat what is offered to you because anything is better than nothing," he said. "They're teaching us things we can take with us when we move out of here and get on with life."

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689