Photo by Victoria St. Martin

‘Chef Nadine’ Cooks Up a Healthy Future for DC

Cheap food does not always equal nutritious food. Nadine Bailey-Joyner teaches low-income D.C. residents that being budget-minded and eating healthy can go hand in hand.

By Julia Reinstein

Nadine Bailey-Joyner, a chef and nutritional adviser who specializes in teaching low-income D.C. residents how to eat healthy on a budget, packages her homemade pies. Photo by Victoria St. Martin.

Feeding the hungry is not enough. They also need to be fed well, according to Nadine Bailey-Joyner, who calls herself “Chef Nadine.” Bailey-Joyner strives to improve lives in D.C. through nutrition education, rather than just food donations.

“I’m a woman that has a mission to try to introduce the underserved population to have a better understanding and relationship with fresh foods,” Bailey-Joyner said.

In the scope of food and poverty, Bailey-Joyner is the second line of defense.

Empty calories are cheap. But, for many low-income D.C. residents who are barely able to scrape by, cheap food is a double-edged sword accompanied by high rates of obesity and health problems.

Bailey-Joyner combats this paradox through her business, Satisfying Solutions. Its mission is to teach underprivileged Washingtonians how to turn inexpensive ingredients into delicious, wholesome meals, she said.

Bailey-Joyner’s compassion is felt by some recipients of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as “WIC.” This Department of Agriculture federal assistance program serves low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children under the age of five, according to its website. Bailey-Joyner frequently instructs cooking classes at WIC centers so mothers can learn to provide their children with healthy, budget-friendly food.

Reformulating the conversation on nutrition

About five years ago, Bailey-Joyner was overweight and experiencing serious health complications. She decided to combat this by transforming her diet. Instead of giving up her favorite foods, she learned to reformulate recipes with simple fixes. She realized she could still have her cake and eat it too, as long as that cake was baked with whole wheat flour, soy milk and organic cage-free eggs. After losing 25 pounds and seeing improvements to her blood pressure, Bailey-Joyner wanted to help others who were grappling with nutrition on a budget.

“I saw people just like me who were struggling to find ways to get healthy but could not afford the programs available,” she said.

Donnita Baccous, a former WIC recipient, is one of those people. Baccous takes care of her children, and previously her grandmother until she passed away. After her grandmother survived two strokes and a heart attack as a result of an unhealthy diet, she turned to Bailey-Joyner for help. Her grandmother had an unshakeable taste for Fritos. It became a serious point of contention between the two, Baccous said.

‘I’m a woman that has a mission to try to introduce the underserved population to have a better understanding and relationship with fresh foods.’

— Bailey-Joyner

Her grandmother’s breakthrough — and the mending of their strained relationship — came when Bailey-Joyner taught her how to make nutritious “mock Fritos” by slicing up corn tortillas with a pizza cutter, sprinkling them with a little salt and baking them. For comparison’s sake, a standard two-ounce bag of Fritos is 320 calories, while a typical corn tortilla is just about 70 — almost a fifth of the calories.

“She was really a blessing to me,” Baccous said about Bailey-Joyner’s transformative assistance. “She gave me opportunity.”

A recipe for farmers market success

WIC recipients have access to fresh fruits and vegetables through the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, but the program vouchers are often underutilized, according to Bailey-Joyner.

Bailey-Joyner learned that the vouchers were going unused because the mothers felt lost on what to buy. Naturally, she set out to help.

She now calls the farmers market organizers a few days ahead to find out what the farmers will be selling and creates a recipe using those ingredients. Then, she holds a cooking demo at the market and distributes the recipe to the mothers in English and Spanish.

Financing a healthy future for D.C.

To help fund her growing business, Bailey-Joyner launched Nutrition Synergies, a retail line of wholesome desserts. Her most popular products are sweet potato pie and navy bean pie.

Even though finances are a major challenge in her work, Bailey-Joyner often pays out of pocket for the people who cannot afford her service. The WIC agency sponsors the cooking classes for their recipients, but Bailey-Joyner funds classes for senior citizens, schools and several other groups herself. A typical class of 75 people can cost $100 to $125 to run. Bailey-Joyner manages to stay in business between selling her dessert line and her husband’s income. She also feels confident that more grants will come in time.

To save money, she works at Union Kitchen, a food incubator run in a Northeast D.C. warehouse. Startup food businesses share kitchen space and equipment that might have been otherwise unaffordable.

To serve the people she helps, Bailey-Joyner said that taking a leap of financial faith is worth it.

“If you get up and you think about serving humanity and not yourself, then that’s really the pay off,” she said.