Member Spotlight: No ordinary lunch

Drew Joseph helps Timebank members think creatively about food to prepare appealing bag lunches for kids.  He also brings to the work his sensibilities as a therapist.  

“I have always loved to cook,” says Silver Spring Timebank member Drew Joseph.  “Shopping, cooking, serving, eating – it’s a nice counter-balance to my paid work.”  Drew does Marriage and Family Therapy – work that is important to him, but he notes that “that work is never ‘done.’  With cooking, there’s a moment of completion that gives me a feeling of accomplishment I don’t always get in my other work.”

As a father, Drew has ten years' experience preparing school lunches five days a week.   He plays with new dishes and transforms leftovers, with a focus on variety and a pleasing presentation.  “Putting in this effort is a way to make my family members feel cared for and to remind them that I’m thinking of them. “

Most of Drew’s cooking is vegetarian, but the same principles apply to all kinds of meals.   “Garnishes are my hobby,” he says.  Leftovers can look unappealing after a day or two in the fridge, but adding “a dollop of sour cream and julienned red peppers – even just those two things cheer it up.”  Drew likes to make sure he always has scallions, cherry tomatoes, and parsley on hand.  “And toasted sunflower seeds can go on top of just about anything.  It only takes moments to make the whole thing feel more special.”

Now he is expanding beyond his own kitchen to provide a lunch consultation service through the Timebank.  He first presented this idea at the Timebank’s “Skills Share” in January, handing out a short summary of his offer:

“Prepare school lunches your kids will love!  You can receive a 90-minute, in-home consultation on how to prepare delicious, healthy bag lunches for your children to take to school. I will help you review your family's dietary needs and preferences; consider how to make time for regular meal preparation; explore how to make fresh vegetables and fruits appealing; identify useful equipment you can use; and more. To conclude our meeting, I'll help you set some short-term action goals for yourself. We'll plan ways to keep yourself creative and inspired over time.”

“I have a lot of tricks of the trade,” Drew says.   He would like to spend time with Timebank members “playing with food and having fun,” while brainstorming and trouble-shooting with them.  He wants to show them how to get the results they want for their families’ dietary needs and preferences and how to feel empowered to approach food creatively.  He also has many shortcuts to share that save time in preparation.  Drew’s offer targets families with children, but really, he says, this is for adults, too.

Timebank member Tina Slater and her adult daughter Jessie were excited by the recipes and other ideas from a session they had with Drew.   He offered them many combinations for roasted foods that could go on a pita bread “pizza” of sorts.  “Roasted pumpkin and maple syrup?” Tina asks. “I never would have thought of that!”  She was inspired by all the possibilities he offered for dressing up leftovers.   Yesterday’s apple pie topped with yogurt and raisins would be great in a bagged lunch. Cold pasta or mac and cheese become new and interesting when topped with peas, pumpkin seeds, baked tofu cubes, chopped veggie burger, or avocado.   So it’s helpful to keep these ingredients on hand, ready to go.  

“By the end of the meeting,” Tina says, “we were riffing off each other,” coming up with even more combinations.  He even told her how to use a bento box in a bagged lunch to carry salad ingredients separately, keeping them from becoming soggy.  Combining them just before eating makes for a more appetizing presentation.  “Everything he talked about was healthy, too.”   

Tina says she has been inspired to create a greater variety of creative meals since the session with Drew.  For lunch, she has fixed Salad Niçoise and leftover quesadilla wedges, served cold with garnishes.  She has made more stir fries for dinner and a frittata for breakfast (onion, kale, and grated sweet potato).   

 Jessie was also inspired and prepared the acorn squash and red cabbage that had been languishing in the vegetable drawer.  (She filled the squash with a sort of cabbage/curry Waldorf salad.)  She has also been roasting more vegetables – a good alternative to the typical lunch side of celery and carrots.  Jessie makes a large batch to keep in the fridge and use with multiple meals.  

Drew had a different kind of meeting with Timebank members Oswaldo Montoya and Rosa Campos, and their 13- and 15-year-old children.  Oswaldo had told Drew that he and Rosa had concerns about their children’s diet.  Drew had them answer some questions before the meeting.  “When we met,” Oswaldo says, “he already had a good notion of our family’s needs.”   

They gathered in Oswaldo’s and Rosa’s kitchen.  First, Drew popped some prepped cauliflower into the oven to roast.  Then they began to discuss family meals.  The children talked about their food preferences, and the parents said they’d like to know what might motivate the children to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Everyone got to speak, and “it felt good for all to be heard,” Oswaldo says.  “Drew was like a mediator, honoring everyone’s perspective and helping to come up with solutions.”

They discussed options for expanding the family’s food repertoire.  All vegetables can be roasted, and one can get a ready-made whole wheat dough and top it with a variety of vegetables.  “Both kids enjoyed the cauliflower when it was done,” Oswaldo says, “and my daughter asked for more.  Now this vegetable is in their diet.  It will not be a struggle.”

The kids agreed to take on some of the responsibility for meal preparation, and it turns out that they are enjoying that.  They are now more invested in trying new things, including fruits and vegetables, and they are also more motivated to eat the food that they help to make.  

Oswaldo appreciates the support he felt from Drew and hopes to have another session in a month or so.  He wants Drew to “hold us all accountable” (children and parents alike).  They will discuss which of the discussed changes have been made, which haven’t (and why), and what they want their next steps to be.  “There’s no overnight solution,” Oswaldo says, “but we feel that now there is a new way forward.”  

If you would like to do an exchange with Drew Joseph, you may contact him through the Silver Spring Timebank:

Thanks to SSTB member Laura Kranis for writing this story.