Finding healthy foods in a food desert

The Takeaway

This story was originally reported by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

An estimated 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children live without adequate access to grocery stores and healthy foods, according to First Lady Michelle Obama. Living in these so called “food deserts,” residents are often forced to pay more for fruits and vegetables and the quality is often lower.

These food deserts may contribute to obesity and cardiovascular diseases, according to the Center for Disease Control (pdf). The CDC also found that low-income and African American residents were most affected by the lack of access to healthy foods.

First Lady Michelle Obama has launched an initiative to eliminate food deserts in America in the next 7 years. Until that happens, Janine Whiteson, author of “Cooking Light: What to Eat,” has some suggestions for people who want to eat healthy, but can’t always shop at the fancy grocery stores.

Brown rice, whole grain breads and other healthy food options are available in convenience stores or even drug stores like Walgreens, Whiteson told PRI’s The Takeaway. People simply have to know where to look. The big manufactures are often given the prime placement at eye-level, while healthy food options are relegated to high or low on the shelves.

“If you shop high and you shop low,” according to Whiteson, “you’re going to find some great nutrition options.”

There are also some tricks for making the foods more healthy. The canned beans found in every convenience store can be good options, but they’re often covered in sodium. Whiteson suggests washing the beans before serving them, to make them more like the beans you’d find in bigger grocery stores.

Whiteson also included some recipes for people to use when shopping at the convenience store (you can se one below). She assures people that at the drug store or at whole foods, “If you shop right, you will eat right.”

Black Bean and Tomato Quesadilla

– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic or garlic powder
– 2 cans chopped tomatoes
– 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed to cut down on sodium
– 4 (8-inch) flour tortillas, whole grain, if possible
– 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded cheese (cheddar or queso blanco)
Dried parsley or cilantro if available

– 1 can whole-kernel corn (fiesta style, with red bell pepper, if available)
– 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
– 1/2 teaspoon bottled minced garlic or garlic powder
– Dried parsley or cilantro if available

“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.