It Only Takes a FEW to help Families Eat Well
Madison East Seventh-day Adventist Church F.E.W. – a healthy foods ministry for pregnant and nursing moms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than seven million women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a baby full term. Further, the death rate of African American babies in Wisconsin is among the worst in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Improper nutrition during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight, which are common causes of infant death.
These poor birth outcomes motivated the formation of Families Eat Well, or F.E.W. – Madison for short, at the Madison East Seventh-day Adventist Church. The group, formerly known as Feeding Families Fantastic Foods, believes the Adventist health message can be a powerful tool to help change birth outcomes for low income and racially and ethnically diverse women, leading to fewer deaths and health complications.
Kim Rekawik, mother of six and member of F.E.W. – Madison, said she and her husband tried multiple measures and suffered through a few miscarriages before they were able to have their second child. What finally made the difference? A complete change in her diet to healthy fruits and vegetables, and not eating meat.
“It took eight years to have my second child! I had a couple of miscarriages… and then I went to these health seminars given by our church and was taught to eat no sugar, oil or meat, and no dairy products, and I started eating that way. After a while, I got pregnant!” Rekawik said.
Her story is not unique as many women report the beneficial effects of a more natural diet on their conception, health during pregnancy, and baby’s health.
“I felt better during the pregnancy, and when my son was born, he was just amazing! The nurses couldn’t believe how alert he was. They said they’d never seen a newborn that alert, and I believe health has a lot to do with it and my diet” Rekawik said.
Scientific research strongly supports the benefits of proper nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. But many moms struggle with eating more healthy meals and obtaining enough nutrients during pregnancy. In fact, according to the website HealthyPeople.gov, only one in ten adults eat the recommended number of fruits and vegetables per day with rates being worse among African Americans, Hispanics, and those living below the federal poverty line.
Rekawik believes her diet change saved her life. “I ended up in the ICU, I had a bleeder left in me, and my heart did stop twice, and I went into shock. But it didn’t take long to get my health back, and I believe my diet played a big part in that. I believe that God introduced me to that [change in diet] at the time because he knew what I was going to go through.”
As with Rekawik, for many of the Madison East team, the benefits of healthy eating during pregnancy hit close to home. Jennifer Stan, one of the founding members, recalls her experience with healthy eating and diabetes risk.
“I had to monitor my glucose every day because I tested at-risk for gestational diabetes. I quickly noticed that every meal impacted my numbers. High sodium foods, like Chinese food and meat, spiked my glucose, and healthier foods like avocados produced normal levels,” Stan said.
Eating a more healthy, organic diet is not always easy. Statistics from the website KidsFroward.net show that 11.3 percent of Wisconsinites were living in poverty in 2017. These rates increased to twenty nine percent for African Americans and twenty percent for Hispanics. This included 182,000 Wisconsin children. Access, affordability, and time were listed as significant barriers for these populations. Thus, the F.E.W. ministry will focus on these three areas.
The ministry’s goal is to provide pregnant and nursing moms with resources, recipes, and suggestions for more healthy eating. These resources are focused on a few nutrient-packed ingredients, such as quinoa and lentils, that cost only a few dollars to purchase and take only a few minutes to cook.
For Stan, maintaining a healthy diet during her pregnancy was difficult and expensive. Before becoming pregnant, she consumed less than two servings of fruit and vegetables per day. “I knew that I had to eat healthier, and I wanted to do my best since this was my first child. I read so much information saying if I did not do this right, it would lead to preterm birth or low birth weight, and the risk was higher because I was Black,” Stan said. “I was constantly scared. If I did not have time or could not afford a healthier meal, I would skip meals. Not eating made things worse, but I didn’t know how to make healthier foods that I liked.” She believes the ministry will benefit women not accustomed to eating fruits and vegetables every day or that think they can’t afford vegetarian or vegan diets.
The F.E.W. team has pulled together a delicious set of healthy recipes that take forty five minutes or less to cook with no more than ten ingredients, most with only one to five ingredients! Following Christ’s model to minister to peoples’ unique needs and hearts one-on-one, the team will work with moms to learn more about their needs, eating habits, likes and dislikes, and budgets. The goal is to customize recipes and suggestions for each individual’s lifestyle and budget.
Stan thinks this is where the Adventist community and the Madison East church family will be an asset. “Through church members and attending potlucks, I have learned so many new vegetarian options. Before I became an Adventist, I did not know about quinoa, lentils, or kale. I was shocked to learn that I can get these nutritional powerhouses at the local Pick ‘n Save and not just at Whole Foods. They are also some of the most inexpensive foods to buy,” Stan said. “This knowledge is very exclusive to higher-income communities and healthier communities, like Adventists. If we can make this available to lower-income women, I am sure we can start changing the health trajectories we see today – obesity, diabetes, etc.”
The F.E.W. ministry team has partnered with Access Midwifery Clinic and the Madison Women’s Care Center, organizations serving low-income women and those racially and ethnically diverse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they will donate boxes of recipes and non-perishable food items and work virtually with any of the women interested in learning tips and tricks for healthier eating.
They have also created a Pinterest page and Families Eat Well YouTube channel with healthy recipes tailored for a pregnancy diet and information on ways to source low-cost healthy food. To check out their growing list of recipes, go to their website www.fewmadison.com The group will connect their online presence to the Madison East SDA Facebook page and YouTube Channel. Any youth who enjoy making videos or cooking and who feel called to this ministry are encouraged to contact the Madison East Seventh-day Adventist church as they would also like to create a kids YouTube channel.
To minister to the emerging food needs in the local Madison community, especially during the pandemic, the church’s Pastor, Loren Nelson III, has started a free community garden. Plots are open to any individual who would like to grow their own food. Pastor Nelson believes the garden will help sustain a supply of organic produce to the ministry and provide access to those struggling to afford organic produce at the stores. Other church members and local farms have also volunteered to contribute produce to the ministry. This past growing season, through donations and the garden’s supply, the ministry was able to donate boxes of produce to women in need.
“We are very blessed to have a great team serving in this ministry, and we welcome anyone who wants to be involved as there are many opportunities – from growing food to developing recipes or working with local parents and families. We also welcome dads and other men,” said F.E.W. Co-founder and first-time dad, George Levy. He felt called to help pregnant women who struggle with food as this was a significant challenge with his first child. “We can all play a part; it only takes a few to help families eat well” he said.
With Christ and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the Madison East group hopes to help at least a few women incorporate more healthy ingredients into their diets. Helping moms eat more healthy diets leads to generations of more healthy eaters.
Ornella Levy, Co-founder of Families Eat Well
 Name changed for privacy