UC Food Blog
In January, more than 600 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) professionals across California gathered in Sacramento for the SNAP-Ed Local Implementing Agency Forum. This two-day annual gathering celebrates SNAP-Ed work, offers a platform to share lessons learned, and provides training opportunities. The 2018 theme was: “Building Power through Stories of Change”.
During one of the plenary sessions, Stories of Change: Voices from the Community, we heard directly from participants about their struggles to achieve good health in difficult situations – where time and money are limited. Listening to SNAP-Ed participants' stories of life changing experiences in health and fitness was captivating. However, one thing was clear – it all began with first steps: deciding to change, walking into a SNAP-Ed class, bonding with a compelling educator. These often invisible steps are needed to make enduring change. The stories solidified the importance and impact of SNAP-Ed in the community.
The SNAP-Ed LIA Forum also showcased county work through a poster session. During this time, we heard UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program educators and administrators discuss their work along with their SNAP-Ed colleagues. The level of commitment and collaboration that is occurring every day across the state was compelling.
Here are just a couple UC CalFresh stories:
In Stanislaus County, 40 percent of low-income families are food insecure. The United Way, UC CalFresh Nutrition Education, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Caswell and Bret Hart elementary schools worked together to find ways to increase elementary school students and their families' access to and consumption of healthy food and beverages.
They created the CHEF program; CHEF stands for Cooking, Healthy Eating & Food. Participant's help prepare meals during nutrition education classes. They take home ingredients to make the recipe for their families at the end of each 4- to 6-week series. The classes teach families about MyPlate and how to make long-term, healthier choices by reading labels, exercising portion control, and shopping on a budget.
CHEF also provides more than 340 children in the two afterschool programs with 18-pound bags of food twice per month. From 2016 to date, 197 adults participated in nutrition education classes. More than 200,000 pounds of healthy food were provided to Stanislaus County families.
Stepping it up
In Tuolumne County, the UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra region helped start the "Tuolumne County: Step It Up" campaign across the school district. Thirty percent of the population in Tuolumne County is overweight or obese. The UCCE staff considered how to assist in reducing this statistic and provide a model for a simple way to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Physical activity is an important aspect of health in children. Benefits include:
- Improved heart health
- Increased muscle strength and bone health
- Improved weight control
- Decreased risk for many chronic diseases
- Positive effect on mental health
- Inclination to continue healthy lifestyle into adulthood
- Improved educational outcomes
UC CalFresh, Tuolumne County Schools, County Public Health, and the Local ATCAA Food Bank invited school staff to form teams at their schools for a six-week competition, logging their steps along the way. The competition ran from April 6, 2017, to National Walking Day, May 17, 2017. The data were captured through online spreadsheets and emailed weekly by a designated team captain.
The ‘Step It Up' competition garnered significant community support. Local businesses donated prizes for winning staff, which were presented at school-wide assemblies with certificates for each participant. Students contributed to their step count through recess walks, “walk-and-talk” roving lectures, or school-wide walking mornings.
With five teams and over 180 participants, the steppers collectively walked 25,081 miles. The winning school was acknowledged by their district school board and have enacted a policy dedicating time every Wednesday morning to walk as a school.
SNAP-Ed: It's a life changer!
As members of the community, UCCE educators and staff lead the way to build resources that establish healthy lifestyles where they live and serve. Ultimately, their daily work is building the capacity for local institutions and leaders to make a long lasting difference. Hats off to all of you, your partners and community members – your efforts make SNAP-Ed a life changer!
Author: Andra Nicoli, UC CalFresh State Office, with county contributions from Jaci Westbrook, Gretchen Birtwhistle and Wylie Skillman
ut yourself for a minute in some kid-sized shoes. Let's call you Maggie. You are in third grade. Your dad works full time and he picked you up from the afterschool program at 6:00 p.m. You and dad got home about 7:00 p.m. because you had to stop by QuikMart to pick up something for dinner and put a little gas in the car. When you got home dad cooked the frozen pizza and you sat down to eat and drink your soda around 7:30 p.m. By the time you finished eating, took your shower, helped dad clean-up and got in bed it was 8:45 p.m.
In the morning you hurry to put your clothes on, brush your hair, brush your teeth and get everything in your school bag for the day. Dad needs to drop you off at school at 7:30 a.m. so he can get to work on time. You grab a bag of chips as you run out the door, rubbing your eyes and looking to make sure you didn't put your shirt on backwards again.
Somewhere around 10:00 a.m. your tummy starts to growl. You feel your mouth start to water a little and your eyes droop. Looking at the clock you count the minutes until lunch. At 11:25 , one of your classmate's parents comes in with a tray of cupcakes to celebrate her birthday! Your stomach jumps at the sight of pink butter cream frosting piled high on the little cakes. Your teacher hands one to each student in the class and you savor every delicious bite.
Fifteen minutes later the lunch bell rings. Your teacher walks everyone over to the cafeteria and you get in line for school lunch. You feel embarrassed to eat school lunch and since you ate that cupcake you're not really hungry anyway. You plop a few things on your plate making a face. Sitting down you pick at the food until the custodian says you can get up and go play. You dump your tray with most of the food still on it and run outside chasing your friends onto the blacktop.
Back in class you feel energized after your game of handball. Your face is red and you're a little sweaty from all the running around. Your teacher announces that your group won the weekly contest and each of you will get to pick from the candy bag. That sounds great to you because you are starting to get hungry again. You put a few pieces of candy in your mouth. You get back to work on your math problem but it's the afternoon and you always have trouble concentrating in the afternoon…
Maggie is just one of more than 30 million children in the U.S. who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals through the USDA school meal program. Students like Maggie may rely on food at school for up to 50 percent of their daily calories and school meals represent a larger portion of the school-day caloric and nutrient intake for food insecure children. In addition, research shows that income level, educational attainment and family composition impact diet quality and physical activity.
The national school lunch program, while not perfect, is intended to ensure students like Maggie are offered a variety of fruits and vegetables and whole-grain rich foods every day. There are limits to the amount of sodium, saturated fat, trans-fat and calories that are offered as part of a school meal. Studies have shown that child nutrition programs improve diet quality and academic performance for children in low-income and food-insecure households.
When we offer our children and students food with little to no nutritional quality for a reward and cupcakes to celebrate a birthday, we are impacting their overall dietary quality for the day. For Maggie, the problem is compounded by the fact that she does not have access to a varied and nutritious diet at home. She has nothing to fall back on when she doesn't get a nutritious meal at school and she fills up on empty calories instead. Childhood is an important time when people develop lifelong eating and physical activity patterns.
So when I am faced with the dilemma, once again, of speaking up and being the cupcake police or staying silent and going along with treats at school, I think of Maggie.
What can you do to create healthier schools for all children:
- Look up your School Wellness Policy. Every school that participates in the School Meal Program has one. However, many times they were written and never revisited. Check your district web page or go to the Dairy Council finder. School Wellness Policies outline what is and is not allowed to be offered in the classroom or fundraisers during school.
- Offer non-food rewards for positive behaviors: Extra physical activity time or recess, the opportunity to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the teacher, special privileges like “line leader” for the day, or the opportunity to go out to the garden. For more healthy reward ideas visit Healthy Food Choices in Schools.
- Celebrations that reinforce health: Include physical activity like a dance party in your celebration (see GoNoodle for all kinds of fun activities and brain breaks), ask parents to bring in a donated book for the class instead of cupcakes (see Books for Birthdays), if you are going to have food, make sure non-nutritious items are limited to one per student.
- Eat lunch with your student(s): If you're a parent, check-in with your school. Many schools allow parents to eat lunch with their children if notified in advance. If you're a teacher, eating with your students is a great way to teach and model healthy eating behaviors. Interested in learning more about the importance of school meals? Find out here.
- Is the school offering a variety of fruits and vegetables? Can the students all see the food and serve it safely? Are any local foods available? If not, set a meeting with the Food Service staff to discuss your ideas and see how you can help.
Students' surroundings can greatly impact their learning and health, research has shown.
In an effort to enhance nutrition, learning and health for these students in Oakland, the University of California Cooperative Extension, UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, Luther Burbank Preschool and Oakland Unified School District Early Childhood Education supported the installation of a mural that features silhouettes of children of different abilities among flowers, fruit and other foods cast in bold colors at Burbank Preschool.
Luther Burbank Preschool Center is an inclusive school serving the needs of over 200 students, ages 3 to 5, of varying abilities and needs. The Burbank preschool students and teachers helped paint the mural.
“Our students worked on the mural first, then David [Burke] completed it,” said Principal Tom Guajardo. “This project has been absolutely uplifting for our students, staff and parents. I say ‘uplifting' because I have heard comments like, “‘When I am feeling a little down or tired, I come and see the mural and I am immediately rejuvenated.' It has been a showcase when parents and visitors come to our school.”
On Friday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. the mural will be unveiled in the cafeteria of Luther Burbank Preschool at 3550 64th Avenue in Oakland. Parents, teachers and students are invited to a celebration to meet David Burke, the mural designer and well-known Bay Area artist. The UC CalFresh staff is planning some activity stations including a healthy cooking demonstration with free recipe books and a table where children can make “veggie faces” using fresh produce and hummus for dipping.
Farms that sell only fresh produce are dependent on buyers for markets and pricing. The UC Cooperative Extension small farms team in Fresno and Tulare counties believes farmers can earn more money by taking production a step further, by adding extra value to their products with processing, preserving and packaging the produce.
UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and Fresno State's Office of Community and Economic Development brought a group of small farmers together for a workshop in January to learn about resources available to help them develop value-added businesses.
“Value-added products can improve the bottom line of a small family farm by bringing in additional income and diversifying production,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We wanted to connect beginning farmers and Southeast Asian farmers to programs that could help them develop and market value-added products from their farms.”
The value-added workshop included presentations from a farmer with a successful value-added business, government agencies and non-profit organizations. Alternative lenders such as Fresno Madera Farm Credit, who provided funding for the workshop, also presented on loans available for small-scale farms. UCCE agricultural assistant Michael Yang translated the presentations into Hmong.
Kingsburg organic farmer Paul Buxman opened the workshop with his personal journey into value-added production. Buxman's story begins in 1994 when a spring hail storm swept through his farm.
“The hail marked all my fruit. I had 100,000 pounds of plums, peaches and nectarines I could not sell. What could I do?” Buxman said. “An idea came to my head like a lightbulb. Take the fruit, cut off the scar, cook it and make jam.”
The new venture wasn't an instant success. Buxman found himself delivering unsold jam that first year to a Bay Area homeless mission, pulling up right behind a bread truck.
“Man does not live by bread alone,” he said with a laugh.
But each year he and his wife improved their product, and the market grew.
“This jam is so addictive, it's barely legal,” Buxman said. His “Sweet Home Ranch Homemade Preserves” costs $2 per jar to make, and sells for $5 each.
Buxman suggested the farmers at the UCCE workshop to try making a value-added product. The new products could be spices, food, cleaning products, handicrafts, and even experiences, such a teaching a skill.
“You have so much more to offer people than you realize,” Buxman said.
During the subsequent panel discussion, Kiel Schmidt outlined the support that Food Commons Fresno can provide. An important element is the opportunity to rent the organization's commercial kitchen to create value-added merchandise to health department specifications. Patti Chang of Feed the Hunger Foundation said her organization provides technical assistance and loans to new ventures that can carry out their mission of reducing hunger and helping people out of poverty.
“We worked with two Oaxacan women in Madera who didn't want to be field workers anymore,” Chang said. “They wanted to make a product from their culture: mole. They became a certified business, opened a bank account at Wells Fargo and opened a small restaurant in a grocery story. We helped them negotiate the lease.”
Eduardo Gonzalez of Fresno State's San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center said his facility can help small businesses with marketing, website design and getting value-added products to market.
Dawn Goliik of the U.S. Small Business Administration said the organization can help small farmers start, grow and run businesses with training, mentoring and counseling.
“It's all free to you,” Golik said.
The UCCE small farms team also has a marketing associate, Lorena Ramos, who is available for farmers to contact regarding value-added product development.
Presentations and one-on-one consultations were offered by a variety of organizations that can loan funds, including Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Access + Capital, Northern California Community Loan Fund, California FarmLink, USDA Farm Service Agency and Valley Small Business Development Corporation.
The workshop ended with a presentation on California's Cottage Food Law, which allows residents to process and prepare foods in their own home kitchens to sell to the public. Some of the home-prepared products the law permits are jams, jellies, cookies, cakes and fudge, dried fruit, vegetables and spices. A complete list of approved foods is on the state website.
The Cottage Food Law is for businesses with a gross annual income below $50,000, which have no more than one employee (not including household members).
“There is no charge, just paperwork to fill out,” said Matthew Gore with Fresno County Environmental Health. “This isn't difficult, and we're here to help you with the forms.”
Dahlquist-Willard said an important part of her UC Cooperative Extension program is the connections she and Yang can help farmers make with the myriad services available to them.
“We encourage small farmers to contact us in our Fresno office,” she said.
At Super Bowl parties, dropped passes and missed tackles should be the only things making football fans' stomachs churn. Leaving food out for more than two hours can be hazardous to your health and that of your guests, cautions a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition expert.
You may be thinking, “I've eaten food that sat out longer than two hours and not thrown up.” Consider yourself lucky.
“We keep learning more about foodborne illness,” says Patti Wooten Swanson, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor in San Diego County. “We probably did get sick, but we thought it was something else, like the 24-hour flu.”
She added that kids, diabetics, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.
For Super Bowl Sunday and throughout the year, Wooten Swanson offers these food safety tips:
- Thaw turkey or meat in the refrigerator.
- Don't wash raw meat or poultry in the sink before cooking.
- Use a meat thermometer to determine when meat or poultry is done.
- Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.
- On the fourth day, throw leftovers away.
Thawing foods correctly and storing them at the right temperatures is important, said Wooten Swanson.
“Bacteria grow very rapidly,” she said. “From 40 degrees to 140 degrees is what we call the danger zone. We encourage you to get food out of that temperature range as soon as possible. Don't let food sit on the table after you finish eating and go to watch TV.”
She also recommends not leaving food out the length of the game.
“Chips are fine to leave out,” Wooten Swanson said, “But put the salsa and guacamole in small containers, then put out new bowls at halftime. Take away the original containers to wash or discard. You don't want to refill a bowl that has been out for 2 hours.”