The Floating Hospital aims to help transient families eat healthy on the go

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Since its inception in 1866 and the days of offering fresh milk to moms and kids, The Floating Hospital has addressed the issue of nutrition as a health touchstone, and the good work only continues to grow, fueling and feeding patients to a better healthcare journey.

Getting proper nutrition is one of the most challenging hardships facing impoverished communities. The coronavirus pandemic only amplified that, with food insecurity spiking to an all-time high, affecting 1.5 million New Yorkers, Feeding America reports 46% of those going hungry were children. Many of whom lost a daily meal and snack when schools suspended in-person learning. Children living in temporary housing were particularly susceptible.

“Eating healthy is difficult for many people, but even more so when you are living in a shelter,” says Dr. Meghan Miller, The Floating Hospital director of health education. “Not only could you be without a kitchen, but you may not be allowed to store any food in your room, and the chances are high that you live in a food desert.” Dr. Miller notes that while some shelters provide food, it is often doled out in very small portions, leaving shelter-bound adults and children hungry and resorting to fast food to fill up.

Add to that generational cycles of poverty, where healthy eating habits are a lost, or never learned, skill. According to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, children living with homelessness are five times more likely to go hungry than children in stable homes, and are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to not eat fruit or vegetables each week. “Bad habits can form from an early age,” says Dr. Miller. “Kids are important because that’s the age when they develop eating habits: The healthier they eat as children, the more likely they’ll maintain that as adults.”

Developing healthy tastebuds

Enter The Floating Hospital’s health education department, which offers vital tools to good health. The signature program revolves around healthy cooking workshops in the Chef Maria Loi and Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation Teaching Kitchen, open to families visiting the clinic for medical appointments and to the community at large. The hands-on classes introduce new foods and ingredients, time- and space-efficient preparations, and ways to deal with the less-than-nutritious options shelter residents often have to default to.

To help drive the messaging home, Dr. Miller and her team created a 28-page cookbook specifically addressing The Floating Hospital patients’ unique challenges. In addition to including healthy no-cook and microwave-friendly meals, the book includes calorie counts for fast-food items, a “quick pick” list of healthy foods commonly found in bodegas, and a guide to city food pantries.

cook book graphic
cookbook graphic for mobile

“Many of our patients are living in shelters that don’t have full kitchens—in fact, many have to share one or two microwaves with the whole building,” says Dr. Miller. Long wait times into the night contribute to a family resorting to a quick and not-so-healthy food options, especially when kids are hungry and bedtime approaches.

The cookbook is kid-friendly on purpose because experience in the The Floating Hospital classes has shown that when kids are excited or interested in a new food, they can be the change agents for the whole family and help shift eating patterns and food choices, even if only at the bodega or a limited grocery store.

“Let’s Cook Healthy” will be printed on durable paper stock, laminated and given to all class participants, distributed at shelters and The Floating Hospital’s main clinic with an initial print run of 2,500 copies. If you are interested in underwriting the cost of this project, please contact Ellen Barker; ebarker@thefloatinghospital.org.

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

In 2021, The Floating Hospital moved into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City, and continues to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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