MEALS ON WHEELS TAKOMA PARK/SILVER SPRING UNVEILS VEGETARIAN OPTION FOR HOMEBOUND NEIGHBORS
TAKOMA PARK, MD — Antonio Maksimiuk regularly calls the staff at Meals on Wheels of Takoma Park/Silver Spring since the nonprofit unveiled its vegetarian menu in June to tell them how good that day’s meal was. Though he’s not vegetarian, the new offering is best suited for his lifestyle, according to his doctor. The local Meals on Wheels program knew there was a demand from vegetarian and other health-conscious clients like Maksimiuk, so after surveying need and with a few culinary tweaks, they made it happen.
“Every three months, I go to the doctor, and because of my cholesterol, she tells me to eat less meat, less chicken, and when I told her I had a choice with Meals on Wheels, she said ‘that’s a good choice,’” said Maksimiuk, who has been eating Meals on Wheels meals for a year. “I’m happy. Really, it tastes good, has a nice flavor. I have no complaints.”
Meals on Wheels Takoma Park/Silver Spring, which delivers meals to all homebound neighbors regardless of their age or income level, makes an extra effort to listen to its clients – 212 served in 2020 alone – to learn what they need, and it follows up regularly to survey clients on what’s tasty and what could use a little spice.
In one week, the five vegetarian hot entrees were: eggplant parmesan; Asian tamari green beans with almonds; rainbow chard frittata; chickpeas with feta, lemon, and parsley; and a hearty tofu curry.
According to Executive Director Ruth Masterson, “Our program is already known for its excellent meals prepared with love by our skilled Head Cook Nancia Sical. We’ve been eager to add a vegetarian option for a long time, but just haven’t had the capacity. We’re just so delighted to make it happen as part of our 50th anniversary.”
Vegetarian Cook Justin Taft-Morales brings his love for Mexican, Indian, Asian, and Italian cuisines to the menu creating curries from around the globe, eggplant dishes, various types of stuffed peppers, and his favorite veggie: beets.
“I have been a vegetarian since I was a kid, so I am sympathetic to those who don’t get a vegetarian option elsewhere,” said Taft-Morales. “I’m excited to be providing this to our clients so there’s as much variety and options as possible, given our capacity. My main guiding factors are keeping a nice variety of protein sources because a vegetarian menu can often lose variety. I’m working with our Head Cook Nancia who does a great job making sure we have a variety of fresh foods from the farmers’ market.”
The new vegetarian menu is a welcome addition for many clients, with seed funding from the Health Initiative Foundation, a one-time COVID-Relief grant through Meals on Wheels America, and local community donors. Also slated for the program’s 50th anniversary year is a renovation of its space with an eye towards welcoming new clients to the program.
In 2020, Meals on Wheels of Takoma Park/Silver Spring’s kitchen, staffed by one cook and between four and ten volunteers each day, prepared 42,575 meals, which were delivered to 212 clients by volunteer deliverers covering ten routes. This year, the nonprofit is on track to deliver 50,000 meals by the close of 2021, including a hot and a cold meal five days a week. The program has particularly been helpful during the pandemic, serving homebound neighbors who live in Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Adelphi, Chillum, and Langley Park.
For clients unable to cook for themselves, especially vegetarian meals which can require using heavy pots filled with water for boiling vegetables or extensive chopping for those with dexterity challenges, this new offering serves many purposes.
“They send the food just for me, but my family is always asking for a little taste because they say they like it,” said Hyattsville client Samira Bangura who normally eats fish and chicken but prefers a vegetarian diet. “I really like it because it’s good for your health…They always send fruit, vegetables, and beans.”
“I’m not really a good cook,” said Maksimiuk, who is homebound but monitoring his health and trying to eat better. “My doctor said, if you use different spices, you’re not gonna miss the salt. That’s boloney, but I’m doing better with blood pressure. Today, I had a green pepper stuffed with lentils and veggies, mashed potatoes and roasted zucchini.”
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