Jacqueline Hannah is the general manager of Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana and a passionate advocate for becoming aware of where our food comes from and how about how to eat well on a reasonable budget. She and her husband met while working together in a commercial kitchen and they continue to share a love of cooking together as well as a love of quilting and growing their own food in their backyard garden at their home in Urbana. Jacqueline is unabashedly smitten with the C-U community and the power supporting local businesses has to continue enriching our community. Her son, Eli, was born in 2006.
See why we think Jacqueline Hannah is a Chambana Mom to Know.
Q: You work in the food industry. How crazy is it at Thanksgiving time in the store?
Thanksgiving is the biggest food shopping holiday of the year so this is a wildly busy and fun time of year for us at the food co-op. We have a blast with it, but it certainly is hard work and long hours the week before the big day!
Q: You do workshops to help people understand how they can eat healthy/organic on a budget. Have a few quick tips you can share with us?
My No. 1 and 2 tips are “cook it yourself!” and “when you cook, multiply and freeze.” People consistently underestimate how much money they save when they cook foods themselves. I blow students preconceptions away in my classes when I show them the cost of a prepared can of organic lentil soup, the cost of a can of non-organic lentil soup, and the cost of the same portion of completely homemade organic lentil soup with the very same ingredients (it’s less than half the cost of a can of non-organic lentil soup, by the way, even when the soup is on sale.) There are dozens of foods I can do this with. We think nothing of purchasing a “cheap” non-organic frozen dinner that we got on sale for $2.99 to $3.50 a pop but there are many easy, healthy meals you can cook with all organic ingredients for only $1.25 – $2.00 for a hearty serving. I wanted to prove how easy and affordable this could be to others responsible for their family’s food budget and preparation so I produced 15 recipes for Common Ground’s “Food For All” recipe program that can all be made for that price, we offer those recipes for free at the Co-op.
Tip No. 2, “multiply and freeze” I learned from my years managing a local commercial kitchen. Volume is key to making a profit in the commercial food business because the highest cost is labor. As parents, we all know that one of our most finite resources is time too so we can learn a lot from the restaurant model. When you make one batch of that lentil soup, let’s say it takes 30 minutes. But an interesting thing happens when you double the recipe, it only takes you 45 minutes, triple it and it takes only 55 minutes. Then you can pack the extra portions for lunches the next couple of days or freeze them for instant meals on the go or even for whole dinners at a later date. When we are exhausted and short on time is when we make poor food choices or run out for fast food for the whole family, which is almost always more expensive than a home-cooked organic meal full of whole grains and veggies. Pre-made meals in the freezer save me from poor meal decisions nutritionally and economically all the time!
Q: How do you think families can get involved with the local food movement?
My number one tip is make it fun. We’re all working so hard to make the best choices for our family’s health, our communities, and our world that many people look at organic food and local food as one more thing to feel they “should” do. Take the “should” out of it and take it one step at a time. The local farmers’ markets are a ton of fun for kids and many of the farmers will give children samples right there. Meeting farmers who actually grow your food can be exciting for both the kids and for us parents. There is still a lot of local produce available this time of year at Common Ground and at the Holiday Market on Saturdays inside Lincoln Square Mall. Do taste tests with your family – do local carrots really taste better? Find one food your family enjoys and switch to sourcing it local, you don’t have to do it all at once or source everything local to make a real difference.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do with your child during the holidays in C-U?
For my husband and I, it’s the sharing of food and cheer with our friends and neighbors. We love raising our son, Eli, in community with so many people who cherish the sharing of food and simply spending time together. We both came to C-U from the suburbs of big cities and had never experienced the lovely combination of diversity and embracing community that we found in C-U. We’re so glad to be raising Eli in a community with these qualities are they are never more in evidence than around the holidays. We’ll be going to a collective 2nd Thanksgiving gathering at a friend’s house just a few blocks from our home this Sunday where we will all bring a dish we want to share with one another. We’re all looking forward to it!
Q: What is your favorite childhood Thanksgiving memory?
Folding tortellini in my grandpa’s home in the evenings before the holiday with lots of conversation and singing has a very special place in my heart. My dad is of Italian decent and it was a family tradition to gather and make what must have been thousands of hand-folded tortellini that we’d freeze and then serve on Thanksgiving Day. My dad is one of 11 children so with all those aunts, uncles, and cousins we had to make a lot of tortellini to make sure everyone got some and even then, it never felt there was enough! We all looked forward to that fragrant bowl of hand-folded and stuffed pasta floating in broth far more than the turkey. I can’t wait until Eli is old enough to share in the folding tradition with us.
Q: What are you thankful for this year?
I am so grateful for everything in my life. I know that sounds cheesy to some, but I am so lucky to own my own home, to support my family doing work I love, to live in a community I enjoy, to have great friends, to be married to a person I can only describe as my soul mate, and have a delightful and healthy son. We so often forget amidst the stresses of our lives how amazingly blessed we are, but I find I forget a lot less since Eli. At least once a day I catch myself giving thanks for my beautiful boy, he’s taught me the real meaning of gratitude just by being in my life.
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