When your grocery budget is down to its last few bucks, you buy the foods you know you like. It’s not a time to buy new foods you might hate. 
If iceberg lettuce is your go-to salad base and sandwich topper, sorry, spinach — maybe you’ll make it into the cart next week. 
While lettuce hardly qualifies as junk food, spinach dominates iceberg nutritionally, most notably in protein, vitamin A and iron. 
And dropping $4 on a 10-ounce tub of hummus isn’t even a consideration if you’ve never tasted the beige creamy chickpea blend. It doesn’t matter that hummus packs a one-two punch of fiber and protein that can replace a nutritionally devoid dill dip for veggies or add a nutrient boost in a tortilla wrap. 
More:Stock the Shelves campaign ends Oct. 31, still time for readers to help local families with meals
It’s easy to leave healthier foods on the shelf when struggling to put any food on the table. Yet for those battling type 2 diabetes or other chronic health issues, eating healthier can’t always wait until getting a higher-paying job or paying off medical bills or resolving any unexpected financial hardship. 
The Eat Well for Life in the Fox Valley program aims to help people manage their diabetes while struggling with food insecurity. 
When looking for opportunities to improve health in the Fox Cities, lifestyles contributing to chronic disease like type 2 diabetes was a big concern, said Eating Well for Life project leader Sarah Wright.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, with type 2 accounting for 90-95% of all cases. Poor diet and lack of activity are contributing factors for developing type 2 diabetes, which most often arises after age 45. 
People struggling with food insecurity are particularly vulnerable, Wright said. 
A Canadian study published in 2018 showed that living in a food insecure household may more than double the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Collaboration began last year with experts from five health care systems and support of 14 organizations, including Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, to launch the Eat Well for Life program to help people living in food insecure households manage type 2 diabetes.
Eat Well is 13-week course adapted from the CDC diabetes prevention program known as Prevent T2. Each week participants meet as a group with a team leader and guest expert to discuss successes and struggles, learn how to manage diabetes, deal with stress, add more activity into daily routines and other topics to live a healthier life. 
Participants are screened both for food insecurity and uncontrolled diabetes (defined as having an A1C of 8 or higher) and willingness to commit to a healthier lifestyle. 
The Eat Well for Life workgroup determined it was important to remove barriers and provide the essential kitchen tools. For example, if participants did not have a working stovetop, they were offered a hot plate as an alternative.
The 13 participants who joined the first 13-week program, which coincidentally finished Oct. 13, got a kit that included:
Each Tuesday, Eat Well members picked up boxes from a Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin refrigerated truck. Each box supplied ingredients for that week’s meal plan. Each plan lists breakfast, lunch and dinner meals for each day. 
Recipes marked plant-strong (PS) are, in essence, vegetarian and provide a heavy dose of nutrients. Recipes that use animal proteins as toppings or condiments often include substitution suggestions to make them plant-strong. For instance, replacing chicken with lentils or beans (white, black, or garbanzo) as a garden salad topping. 
Nobody gets kicked out of the program for not making every meal exactly as planned. Kitchen savvy participants can follow the general guideline of filling half of their plate with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with protein, and one fourth with whole grains and/or starchy vegetables or use the chart in the recipe guide to customize meals.
Though some were good cooks, Wright said it was important the recipes were simple.
“We weren’t trying to make chefs out of anyone,” she said.
Eating Well included 55 recipes in its recipe guide booklet given to each participant. Recipes came from dietitians, chefs and other experts across five health care systems and the research of an intern from the UW-Green Bay nutrition and dietetics program.
Starting with a recipe for avocado and tomato chickpea pasta salad with vinaigrette, tossing in at least nine slow-cooker options and finishing with a vegetable stir fry, the dishes in Eat Well’s guide keep skills to a minimum. If you can measure, use a knife and set timer, you can handle these recipes. 
Working with Feeding America they were able to supply foods that encouraged trying new dishes. When your budget is limited, people don’t want to risk buying food they don’t like or know how to prepare.
Hummus and spinach proved popular with the first class, said Wright, as well as soups, including a slow cooker vegetarian chili.
Wright said they help connect Eat Well for Life graduates with local food pantries who can continue to supply foods that can be used with their plant-strong and healthier meal plans. AmeriCorps volunteers will stay in touch to see how they are doing and as more rounds of the course are completed there are plans to have reunions. 
“We want this lifestyle change to be permanent,” Wright said.
Donating to Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin helps programs like Eating Well continue and grow. The program needs boxes of food curated to match the menu plans. You can help by donating through the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Stock the Shelves effort.
Contact Daniel Higgins dphiggin@gannett.com. Follow @HigginsEats on Twitter and Instagram and like on Facebook.


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