Lewiston 'PowerMom' promotes healthful diet on a budget
Mwayuma Avoki of Lewiston said she would rather spend her money on healthful food than medications and health care bills. Her 5-year-old son, Ogusto Mutuale, always has a piece of fruit with his dinner, which on Tuesday was goat meat with rice, cassava leaves and beans.
LEWISTON — Mwayuma Avoki doesn't have much money, so when she buys groceries she focuses on how to get more with less and what's healthy.
The mother of two, an immigrant from Congo, Avoki has come up with shopping rules that could help nearly every budget.
Her enthusiasm has earned her the designation of PowerMom by nutrition educators for the Maine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Avoki is one of two Maine mothers showcased in an online video campaign titled Shop, Cook, Eat Healthy on a Budget.
From her Blake Street apartment, Avoki shared her tips as her sons, Gairus, 4, and Ogusto, 5, played.
On her walls are framed photos of her sons and a crucifix. She speaks seven languages, including French and Swahili. She interprets for those who need it, attends Lewiston Adult Education and wants to become a nurse.
Shopping in the United States compared to Congo is confusing, she said. “You see a lot of prices. When I went to give them money, it was very high. I said, 'What are you guys doing?'”
Avoki said she now knows there's a difference between unit prices and actual prices for the amount purchased. “Everybody knows how to shop. We didn't know the amount, how to compare the price and get more food with less money,” she said. “And we didn't know what kind of food was good for our body and what was not.”
All of that was explained during shopping/nutrition classes at Androscoggin Head Start. She now coaches others.
How much she spends when shopping varies, she said. Sometimes she shops for one week, sometimes for two. Typically she spends between $50 and $100 per shopping trip.
Breakfast is cereal, oatmeal, milk and fresh fruit. Other meals include whole wheat bread, peanut butter, cheese, rice, some meat and lots of vegetables. Once or twice a month she'll let her boys have pizza. “It's OK once in a while,” she said. “I like vegetables and fruits in their bodies most of the time.”
In Congo she shopped at farmers markets where there was little if any processed food. People there ate mostly vegetables. “Meat is very expensive,” she said.
When they had chicken, they would eat “just a little piece,” making the chicken last three days.
Norma Larocque, the health coordinator at Androscoggin Head Start, nominated Avoki to be a PowerMom.
Avoki was enthusiastic about what she learned at Head Start nutrition classes. "She brought family. She recruited for me,” Larocque said. Avoki even took Larocque's class twice. “She said, 'I learn better if I hear it the second time.'”
Larocque said she's impressed that Avoki feeds her sons healthful food without much money. “She's amazing.”
How you shop, what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat matters, she said. For example, no one should eat much late in the day, it will make you gain weight, Avoki said.
“We can be killing the body without knowing it," she said. "It kills the body when we put too much salt. Then we have high blood pressure.”
Instead of spending on prescriptions, “we want to spend money to eat right and stay healthy,” she said.