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VA Healthcare food drive takes healthy turn

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 5:36 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Karen Dunn, left, health promotion and disease prevention program manager for VA Butler Healthcare, and dietitian Rachelle Lyons are pictured with some of the food donated for the system's healthy food drive.

VA Butler Healthcare's food drive for veterans puts a new twist on an old tradition.

“We take any donation. But we encourage people to give healthy food,” said Karen Dunn, VA Butler's health promotion and disease prevention program manager.

The Healthy Living Food Drive takes place this month, and the food will be distributed in February.

Collecting healthy but non-perishable items presents some challenges, says Rachelle Lyons, VA Butler's registered dietitian.

“Canned beans are wonderful. Canned fruit is good, as long as you don't drink the syrup. Most canned soups are OK, though some have a lot of sodium,” Lyons said.

The food drive is now in its third year. Last year, the VA used 966 donated items to assemble 49 packed boxes for 22 single veterans and six families, Dunn said.

The food is usually taken to veterans in low-income or subsidized housing, she said.

Encouraging people to donate healthy food is part of a larger effort at the VA, Lyons said.

“It's important to get people to eat more healthy food. It is easier and cheaper to buy less healthy food,” she said.

Poor diet is linked to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

“They are related to unhealthy behavior. Changes in diet can make a big difference in people's lives,” Dunn said.

There are several reasons why people don't eat healthy, Lyons said.

“People don't focus on cooking the way they did 30 or 40 years ago. No one seems to have time to cook. People also think cooking takes hours. It doesn't always take that much time,” she said.

Younger families, especially, don't cook a lot because they think they are pressed for time, Lyons said. Widowed or divorced male veterans who are older often don't know how to cook at all, she said.

“We see that a lot with older men. Many men of that generation just don't know how to cook. They start eating out all the time if they lose a spouse,” Dunn said.

Lyons has a teaching kitchen at the VA where she shows people how to prepare everything from pasta dishes to granola bars, banana cream smoothies and chili.

“There are many, many things that you can cook in about a half-hour,” she said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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