Fuel Back to School

As a new school year approaches, this preparative stretch of time offers the perfect opportunity to upgrade household routines surrounding how food is chosen, prepared, and enjoyed by the whole family. While the little ones get ready to head out the door with backpacks, notebooks, and pencils, ensure they are equally well equipped with nourishing food to take on each day.

Consider the Food Groups
Protein – Animal products like chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs offer lean and complete protein to keep bodies strong and growing. Equally helpful are plant proteins, including beans, nuts, nut butters, lentils, and tofu, which can offer more variety and speedy snack preparation.

Fruits – Handheld fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges can be sent off in a lunchbox just as they are, while berries or cut-up watermelon do well in a baggie or small Tupperware container. To dodge unneeded sugar, look for fruit cups packaged in 100% juice or water and applesauce with no sugar added.

Vegetables – Baby carrots, cut celery, or sliced cucumbers with a favorite dip or dressing make for a sustaining snack at home. A colorful dinner plate can also make a meal more interesting, so trying a variety of veggies can increase engagement at the dinner table. Consider including bell peppers, sweet potatoes, beets, or eggplant among the greens.

Dairy – Milk, yogurt, and cheese offer calcium for strong bones. For lactose intolerance or those who generally dislike dairy, consider non-dairy alternatives that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Dairy and dairy alternatives are often wholesome sources of protein as well!

Grains – Look for bread, cereal, and grain products with 100% whole wheat/whole grain on their labeling. It is recommended to make at least ½ of the grains eaten each day whole grains. This increases fiber intake, which in turn, promotes steady fullness for better energy and focus. Oats, brown rice, and quinoa are some grain choices that are 100% whole grains just as they are!

Guide Balanced Eating
Combining foods from different food groups above creates something filling and provides more necessary nutrients with each passing meal and snack!
Some examples:

  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • Oatmeal or yogurt with berries
  • Toast with a hardboiled egg
  • Grilled cheese with a side of sliced bell peppers
  • Whole grain crackers with salsa, hummus, or guacamole

Get the Facts
The nutrition facts label provides a wealth of information about every product in the grocery store. There is nothing wrong with picking up pre-packaged snack items, though it is worth trying to do so mindfully. When in doubt, check the label! Keeping conscious of added sugar, saturated fat, and high sodium in products will ensure these convenient choices fit comfortably into a balanced intake.

Grow Together
So much planning and preparation can go into getting food from the grocery store to the lunchbox or the dinner table; What steps of the process can include the whole family?
If you are able:

  • Take the kids to the grocery store. Explore the produce section together and pick out something new!
  •  Request some extra hands in the kitchen. Smaller hands may enjoy washing, measuring, mixing, or plating ingredients.
  • Set aside time to prep lunches ahead once per week. Discuss favorite foods and what portions of them are filling.

Remember that meals and snacks don’t have to be perfect! Every day can be a new opportunity to make thoughtful food choices, whether you are catching the bus on the first day of school or writing your 100th lunchbox note.

2023 Main Course Chefs: Highlighting Anthony Bonett of Moshulu & Mike Stellaccio of MANNA

We’re officially 6 weeks out from MANNA’s Main Course presented by Steve Korman & Linda Richardson Korman on Thursday, September 21st from 6:00pm – 10:00pm at Vie by Cescaphe! This week, we’re highlighting two more incredible chef’s whose dishes will be available to sample at the event. Read on to learn more about Anthony Bonett, Executive Chef at Moshulu, and MANNA’s own Mike Stellaccio!

Interview with Anthony Bonett, Executive Chef of Moshulu

Q. Tell us about Moshulu
A. Moshulu is one of Philly’s Most iconic restaurants; It is the world’s oldest and largest square rigged sailing vessel still afloat and the only restaurant venue on a Tall Ship today in the Word. It’s many people’s favorite restaurant in the city. We specialize in decadent and high-end cuisine that’s reinvented with a modern and approachable twist. It’s a restaurant that feels like a big family of guests and staff!

Q. What do you believe is the best bite in Philly?
A. I love Chinese food, so anything in Chinatown – specifically Peking Duck!

Q. What food automatically makes you feel better or puts you in a good mood?
A. As a chef, I love homestyle cooking and things that remind me of childhood. So anything that features chicken cutlets, polenta, or pasta dishes automatically puts me in a good mood.

Q. What drew you to MANNA as an organization to get involved with?
A. I was drawn to MANNA because it’s an organization that’s doing a lot of good in the Philly area, and has been doing so for many years. MANNA continues to stay involved in the chef community and I really appreciate that they bridge the gap between charitable organizations and the chef industry.

Q. What (or who) is your favorite part of MANNA?
A. My favorite part is the outreach that MANNA does!

Q. How long have you been involved with MANNA?
A. I’ve been cooking in Philly for 30 years, so I ‘ve known MANNA for as long as I’ve been cooking here!

Q. What role do you believe that food plays in the community?
A. Food and the food industry in general is very important in many lives. Not just as a place to eat or as part of the community, but it’s also a place where many people work for their first jobs. It’s a great example of hands-on business where you can learn a lot of skills and take them with you wherever you go. It’s admirable how MANNA has made that part of their profile – to stay in touch with the food industry and bridge that gap. I believe food is good for eating, working, and gathering. Food is the soul of the community – from very large places to small places, the vision behind it is all the same.

Q. What type of food will you be serving? Anything special for the event? (okay if you do not have your dish finalized yet!)
A. I will be serving a Thai noodle salad with a very authentic pad Thai sauce vinaigrette, elevating it by pairing it with rock shrimp, shitake mushrooms, herbs and more!

Q. Why should people attend the Main Course?
A. It’s a great way to attend an awesome event, have fun, and give back to an awesome charity!

Q. Out of all the other participating chefs, whose food/dishes are you most excited to try?
A. Chad Williams of Friday Saturday Sunday!

Q. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s event?
A. I’m looking forward to executing well, representing well, meeting new people and really getting involved in the community!

Interview with Mike Stellaccio, Kitchen Manager of MANNA

Q. Tell us about MANNA
A. Our kitchen staff consist of 4 full time chefs, the amount of quality food we put out on a weekly basis is unbelievable. We are currently producing over 20,000 meals a week for our clients with the help of hundreds of volunteers- which is incredible! I’m very grateful to have the team that I have! If I had to choose a favorite MANNA meal, I would pick Chicken Cacciatore!

Q. What do you believe is the best bite in Philly?
A. The octopus nachos at LMNO are fire and the OG fried chicken sandwich from Love & Honey is a classic!

Q. What food automatically makes you feel better or puts you in a good mood?
A. I love lighting up the charcoals and getting ready to smoke some barbeque. My favorite things to throw on the barbeque are ribs & brisket, that’s therapy to me!

Q. What drew you to MANNA as an organization to get involved with?
A. I was looking for a career change in life, and when I saw what MANNA does for their clients it made me excited to work here. Because of our mission, I’m happy to get up and go to work every day.
Q. What (or who) is your favorite part of MANNA?
A. The people who work here, my relationships with my coworkers & the comradery make it fun to come to work.

Q. How long have you been involved with MANNA?
A. I’ve worked at MANNA for almost 2 years, September 21st 2023 isn’t only MANNA’s Main Course, but it’s my 2 year anniversary too!

Q. Has MANNA helped you or your loved ones in any way?
A. MANNA hasn’t directly impacted my loved ones, however I’m glad that we can help so many people daily.

Q. What role do you believe that food plays in the community?
A. Food is essential, and it’s a common item that brings everybody together regardless of your background. I truly believe what food you eat daily; impacts how you feel both physically & mentally. The fact that we are able to provide nourishing meals to our clients, helps in many ways.

Q. What type of food will you be serving? Anything special for the event? (okay if you do not have your dish finalized yet!)
A. Not sure yet, but we’re excited to brainstorm.

Q. Why should people attend the Main Course?
A. Main Course is such a fun night where you get to celebrate Philly, the amazing chefs, and most importantly what MANNA does! We get to showcase it all in one evening.

Q. Out of all the other participating chefs, whose food/dishes are you most excited to try?
A. I’m excited for all of them, but can’t wait to try what Amanda Shulman & Alex Kemp of My Loup bring to the table.

Interested in trying Chef Anthony Bonett’s and Chef Mike’s incredible dishes for yourself? Purchase a ticket for MANNA’s 2023 Main Course event, where you can sample dozens of unique dishes prepared by some of Philadelphia’s finest chefs and culinary talent. We hope to see you there!

Tickets and sponsorship packages are available at mannapa.org/maincourse23.

2023 Main Course Chefs: Highlighting Chef Dionicio Jimenez of Cantina La Martina

As the countdown to MANNA’s 2023 Main Course event continues, we’re highlighting some of the incredible chef’s who will be preparing appetizers, dinner and dessert for the evening on Thursday, September 21st.

This week, MANNA’s Events team traveled to the Kensington neighborhood to visit Chef Dionicio Jimenez, Owner and Executive Chef of Cantina La Martina and 2023 James Beard Award Nominee

Sitting brightly on the corner of D Street and Kensington Avenue beneath the Market-Frankford Somerset Station, Cantina La Martina was opened by Chef Dio in late February of 2022. He first began working in restaurants at the age of 14 in his hometown of San Mateo Ozolco, Calpan Puebla, Mexico. After emigrating to the United States in 1998, Chef Dionicio eventually settled in Philadelphia where he worked his way up in the restaurant industry from dishwasher, line cook, prep cook, chef, and then finally, to Executive Chef. 

With more than 30-years of culinary experience, Chef Dio shares his Mexican heritage and culture with the Philly community through the meals he creates – fusing together new flavors and cuisines and keeping his family traditions alive with every dish. We experienced just that when we sat down for dinner at Cantina La Martina to sample Chef Dio’s creations ahead of MANNA’s 2023 Main Course Event. 

We started the evening with a passion fruit margarita and mango agua fresca (both of which were incredibly refreshing) followed by The Guacamole Trio, The Salsa Trio, and the Peruvian Ceviche Mixto for appetizers. The guac trio includes three separate guacamoles prepared with Crabmeat, Goat cheese & pistachio, and Habanero mango with grasshoppers! It’s the perfect appetizer choice for larger dinner groups or for people who want to try it all. The ceviche mixto includes white fish, tuna, crabmeat, octopus, choclo, sweet potato and Peruvian aji amarillo.

For the main course, we opted for Chef Dio’s famous Pastor Negro Tacos (black marinade pork, onion, cilantro salsa verde), and the Trufa ravioli  (Black truffle, huitlacoche, cotija cheese, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and creamy truffle sauce) – a true blend of culinary fusion! On the side, we delighted in an order of Esquites (Corn, queso fresco, mayo and tajin), and Platanos Oazaueños (Roasted plantain, mole negro, queso and crema) which perfectly complimented the flavors of the main dishes.

And of course, what’s a dinner without dessert? We ended the evening with the most delectable order of freshly fried churros, tossed in cinnamon sugar and dipped in a rich, rum chocolate ganache with raspberry coolie!

If you’d like to try some of Chef Dionicio Jimenez’s incredible dishes for yourself, stop by Cantina La Martina Monday through Sunday during their posted restaurant hours, OR purchase a ticket for MANNA’s 2023 Main Course event where you can sample unique dishes prepared by Chef Dio and 15 of Philadelphia’s finest chefs and culinary talent. We hope to see you there! 

The Case for More Coverage: How Medicaid Guidelines Impact our Understanding of Food as Medicine

Whether you’re a client, volunteer, donor, or other member of the MANNA community, you may know that many MANNA clients are among the more than three million Pennsylvanians who receive healthcare through Medicaid, the jointly funded federal-state health insurance program for low-income populations. But, did you know an increasing number of our clients receive their MANNA meals through their insurance provider? In fact, MANNA was one of the first nonprofits to partner with insurance payers to secure reimbursement for medically tailored meals.

I wanted to take the opportunity to share more about MANNA’s innovative and strategic partnerships with insurance payers through Medicaid and Medicare Advantage (Medicare-approved policies offered by private companies as an alternative to traditional Medicare coverage for people 65 or older, as well as people with some disabilities and long-term conditions). Medicaid has been in the news a lot this year, so I also wanted to share some of the most salient changes to the program that have happened so far in 2023. MANNA continues to strategize and plan for how these changes might affect our services.

We’re getting closer to our goal of securing medically tailored meals as a standard, covered insurance benefit. However, most of our clients still receive our services outside of insurance mechanisms. Philanthropic funding for our program remains as important as ever.

Medicaid and MANNA

Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program covers children, pregnant women, parents, seniors, and people with disabilities, as well as other adults who are eligible for federally assisted income maintenance payments. In 2023, eligibility levels for parents of dependent children are presented as a percentage of the 2023 federal poverty level (FPL) for a family of three, which is $24,860. Eligibility limits for other adults are presented as a percentage of the 2023 FPL for an individual, which is $14,580.

In 2015, MANNA was one of the first nonprofit medically tailored meal providers in the country to seek out and secure Medicaid insurance reimbursement for our services. Since then, MANNA’s model has helped inspire similar programs across the country. Our research helped convince California lawmakers to test the efficacy of medically tailored meals in a statewide pilot program. Ultimately, California followed our model in their groundbreaking CalAIM program (which provides coverage for medically tailored meals in addition to other “community supports,” such as housing navigation, asthma remediation, personal care services, etc.).

MANNA currently partners with seven different insurance plans. MANNA’s Strategic Partnerships and Medical Billing teams work with these plans to ensure that MANNA’s services reach eligible members who would benefit. Through these partnerships, MANNA is also developing a robust additional revenue stream to power our philanthropic work. The length of coverage varies from plan to plan but includes at most 16 weeks’ worth of our home-delivered, medically tailored meals (typically coverage lasts for just one to three months. Medicare Advantage plans rarely cover more than four weeks of medically tailored meals). Medicaid coverage for medically tailored meals in Pennsylvania extends to many prevalent conditions (diabetes, chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease, congestive heart failure, etc.), as well as conditions such as high-risk pregnancy and malnutrition. Some plans allow MANNA the option to “recertify” or re-enroll their members for additional coverage, but others limit the number of times that members can receive a medically tailored meal benefit.

While the coverage they provide is limited, our insurance payer partnerships help us to serve more clients in need in several important ways:

  • In addition to extending our services to more low-income clients through Medicaid, the reimbursement revenue from these partnerships helps to offset some costs of serving our clients whose insurance does not cover medically tailored meals.
  • These partnerships diversify our income to enhance our long-term financial sustainability.
  • Our insurance payer partners often share what we call “real-world data,” positive health outcomes that these partners see among their members that provide additional evidence attesting to the impact of MANNA’s services and the power of food as medicine.
  • Critically, these partnerships help get us a seat at the table to advocate for broader and more extensive coverage of medically tailored meals as a universal standard of care.

Medicaid changes in 2023

Changes to Medicaid in 2023 will impact food-as-medicine programs across the country. In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new guidance that expanded innovative funding mechanisms that could broaden access to medically tailored meals, but limited enrollment in food-as-medicine programs to a maximum of six months, and only once per year. While medically tailored meals have been demonstrated to have dramatic and life-sustaining impacts in as little as 30 days, for clients to reap all of the nutritional and educational benefits that MANNA’s program has to offer, coverage periods should be tailored to an individual’s needs, not one size fits all. Already, coverage is limited – we need more coverage, not less.

Another hurdle came this spring, when the pandemic-era pause on Medicaid recertifications ended and beneficiaries were required to reapply for coverage. It’s early in this process, but preliminary data from June indicate that 20% of Pennsylvanians have lost their coverage, just under half of whom were removed for procedural reasons such as failing to return paperwork. More than one million people have lost Medicaid coverage nationally. MANNA works with our clients to ensure they don’t lose their coverage, providing resources on accessing the benefits that are available to them, including Medicaid. (One of our partnerships with nonprofit Benefits Data Trust connects clients to BenePhilly, a hotline that helps Philadelphia residents access assistance programs that can help them afford food, heat, healthcare, and more.)

Work requirements for Medicaid made headlines this year when House Republicans pushed for them as part of a proposed debt ceiling bill. This was promptly struck down at the federal level. Some states are able to implement work requirements as a component of limited Medicaid expansion, but fortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of them. Pennsylvania has no work requirements for Medicaid, which is necessary for many low-income Pennsylvanians, including our critically ill clients. MANNA clients are just beginning chemotherapy treatments, recovering from recent hospitalizations, healing surgical wounds, or experiencing other serious and exhausting medical events. Many of our clients are unable to go to the grocery store and procure food for themselves, let alone satisfy weekly work requirements.

Moreover, many MANNA clients care for dependent children and adults in their household. Last year, MANNA delivered more than 97,000 nutritious meals to dependents in our clients’ homes. Currently, health insurance does not provide coverage for dependent meals. MANNA relies on the generosity of our philanthropic funders to provide this service.

The push continues

Part of my role is to collaborate with and support MANNA’s Strategic Partnerships team, to make the case to Medicaid insurance providers that expanding coverage of medically tailored meals is a cost-effective way to improve health outcomes among members who are often the sickest and struggling with multiple health conditions. A 2022 issue brief from The Commonwealth Fund found that the U.S. spends twice as much on healthcare than the average high-income country, yet has the highest rate of people with multiple chronic conditions, and the highest death rates for avoidable or treatable conditions. In 2013 MANNA published the first research in the country showing the association between receiving home-delivered medically tailored meals and a reduction in healthcare usage and costs: the average monthly health care costs were 31% lower in the MANNA client group versus the comparison group.

Today, a growing body of research supports the power of home-delivered medically tailored meals as an extremely efficacious and cost-effective intervention:

  • A 2019 study found medically tailored meals to be associated with 49% fewer hospitalizations and 72% fewer admissions into skilled nursing facilities compared to matched control groups.
  • A 2022 study found that a national medically tailored meal program could help avert 1.6 million hospitalizations and save $13.6 billion annually.

Expansive coverage for medically tailored meals will help improve health and well-being for more Pennsylvanians struggling with serious diseases. More coverage will also help us continue to learn more about the benefits of food as medicine through more extensive study and research. Robust Medicaid coverage ensures that our critically ill neighbors can receive the holistic care they need: through their hospital, their pharmacy, their other care providers, and their prescribed medical diets.

We’re grateful for your support as MANNA continues to advocate for medically tailored meals as a universal, covered benefit, accessible and available to all who need them. Until we achieve this goal, philanthropic funding is crucial to our ability to serve our critically ill clients. The push continues!