March is National Nutrition Month. At Toni’s Kitchen, nutrition is a critical part of our mission. We provide food to those in need in our community, and because of that, we always want to make sure that the food we provide is as nutritious as it can be.
Sue Burgio is a volunteer who works with Toni’s Kitchen on nutrition. Sue is a trained registered dietitian who has a long career in the health care industry, working on clinical trials, research, hospital work, and many other areas. She has had experience working with patients one-to-one, and has had a lot of background working on diabetes and heart disease.
In 2016, Sue found herself with some extra time and decided to look for volunteer opportunities in our area. That led her to Toni’s Kitchen. She began by serving and cooking in the kitchen, and getting to know the guests. It was an eye-opening experience.
“You don’t realize that people who are food insecure live a few blocks from you. This isn’t something that is a county or two away. This is right in your neighborhood.”
Sue works with guests during the regular blood pressure and glucose screenings that Toni’s Kitchen offers. She has also worked on a diabetes education program for guests in the kitchen.
The process of planning meals at Toni’s Kitchen is an important one, since guests at the kitchen often have nutritional deficits. “We don’t know whether our guests are getting more than one meal a day,” Sue says. The nutritional goals of the meals are based on the likelihood that guests are not getting their nutritional needs met.
Sue collaborates on the meal planning process with Toni’s Kitchen volunteer Cathie Squatrito and longtime TK Board member and volunteer Pat Moulton. There’s a three-week rotating menu which changes seasonally. Meals are based on the government’s MyPlate guidelines for nutritional value.
Toni’s Kitchen meals generally have six ounces of protein (meat, fish, or chicken) with limited fat. Meats are roasted or baked, not fried. The goal is to have 30% of the meal from protein, 50% from fruits and vegetables, and 20% from grains. Sodium levels are generally kept to around 1200 mg, and meals generally don’t have any refined sugar. Many of the guests in our dining room have hypertension and/or diabetes or are borderline diabetic, so following these guidelines is very important.
Sue praises the lead cooks who prepare meals at Toni’s. “The people that cook are brilliant. They are like gourmet cooks in their own right. The meals are really just beautiful. We’re proud to serve them.”
Sue said she understood early on through her education the importance of food to health. “It amazed me how something as simple and basic and earthy, both literally and figuratively, as food could nourish, cure, prevent, and alleviate disease and need.”
Sue says she feels the “global oneness” with other volunteers when she’s at Toni’s. She enjoys helping people in a hands-on way and giving back to the community. “It’s an endorphin rush. It’s a feel-good thing when you connect with other people and you’re able to help them in such a basic function of life, which is providing nourishment.”
And the one word she says sums up Toni’s Kitchen? “Generosity.”
We are grateful for how generous Sue Burgio is with her time and effort to make Toni’s Kitchen a better, and healthier, place for our guests.