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Shaping Healthy Choices combines approaches to make a lasting impression on kids

Growing vegetables in a garden is part of a program to improve children's eating habits.
You can lead a child to fresh fruits and vegetables, but how do you entice them to eat healthful foods when you aren't watching?

“Simply offering healthy options is not enough to motivate children to make healthy choices,” said Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis.

“Moreover, imposing restrictions rather than providing children with options to make healthy choices can have long-term negative effects,” said Rachel Scherr, assistant project scientist, also in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.

In 2012, more than one-third of children in the U.S. were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have shown that obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, increasing their risk for health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis. To target the complex issue of eating habits, Zidenberg-Cherr and her UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis colleagues designed a school-based program and tested it in Sacramento and Stanislaus counties through the leadership of UCCE nutrition, family and consumer science advisors Terri Spezzano and Yvonne Nicholson.

“Parents shared with me that their children are voicing input on meals and asking if they can add fruit to their salads,” a participating teacher told the researchers.

During the first year that the Shaping Healthy Choices Program was implemented in Sacramento County schools, the number of children classified as overweight or obese dropped from 56 percent to 38 percent. The participating students also improved their nutrition knowledge, ability to identify different kinds of vegetables and amounts of vegetables that they reported eating.

“I tried zucchini and yellow squash when I was little and didn't like it, but now I tried it and I love it!” said a 9-year-old student.

The Shaping Healthy Choices Program takes a multifaceted approach, combining nutrition education with family and community partnerships, regional agriculture, foods available on school campus and school wellness policies.

The garden-enhanced, inquiry-based nutrition curriculum was developed by Jessica Linnell, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology; Carol Hillhouse, the School Garden Program director at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute;  and Martin Smith, a UCCE specialist in the Departments of Human Ecology and Population Health and Reproduction. The family and community partnerships featuring family newsletters were developed by Carolyn Sutter, a graduate student in the Graduate Group of Human Development, and Lenna Ontai, a UCCE specialist in the Department of Human Ecology. Lori Nguyen, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology, Sheridan Miyamoto, postdoctoral scholar in the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, and Heather Young, dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, organized community-sponsored health fairs.

School chefs are adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to their menus.
Gail Feenstra, deputy director and food systems analyst for the UC Agricultural Sustainability Institute, helped the schools set up systems to add fresh, locally grown produce to their menus. Jacqueline Bergman, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Nutrition, coordinated school-site specific wellness committees.

The UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis team worked with classrooms to use Discovering Healthy Choices, a standards-based curriculum that incorporates interactive classroom nutrition, garden and physical activity education for upper elementary school students. Teachers partnered with UCCE to incorporate cooking demonstrations to show the connections between agriculture, food preparation and nutrition. To reinforce the lessons at home, Team Up for Families – monthly newsletters containing nutrition tips for the parents – were sent home with the students. School Nutrition Services purchased fruits and vegetables from regional growers and distributors to set up salad bars and prepare dishes made with fresh produce. The Shaping Healthy Choices Program activities were integrated into the school wellness initiatives.

“My students shared things they learned about safe food handling and safety in cooking,” said a teacher who participated in the study. “Parents said their children want to help in preparing meals at home.”

“My daughter is more interested in trying new foods and eating more fruits and vegetables,” reported one parent. “She often surprises the family by making a surprise salad snack for everyone.”

Preliminary analysis shows that nine months after the classroom education ended, the decrease in the students' body mass index percentiles, or BMI percentiles, was sustained. “This is a big deal,” said Zidenberg-Cherr, while cautiously encouraged by the program's success. “We are in the process of analyzing several aspects of the program — the data set is so complex and I have to feel 100 percent confident in our statements.”

Through a partnership with UC CalFresh, the researchers have expanded the comprehensive program to schools in Placer, Butte and San Luis Obispo counties. Determining feasibility for expansion of the program for broader dissemination is planned for the 2015-2016 school year. 

This project was funded by grants from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 8:38 AM

Southern Californians get another reason to love pizza

The newly planted pizza garden at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville.
People love pizza, so they are sure to enjoy the new garden growing at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. A circle planted with wheat, tomatoes, bell peppers, herbs and spices, the garden looks like and produces the ingredients for pizza.

“Pizza can be a healthy meal, if you build it right,” said Stephanie Collins, outreach assistant at the Desert REC. “We can teach kids to add vegetables and educate them about whole grains and non-fat cheese.”

Collins initially envisioned the pizza garden teaching tool when she joined UC Cooperative Extension four years ago as a nutrition educator. The recent removal of a large tree stump made the location available.

The pizza garden will be part of the center's UC FARM SMART program, in which about 5,000 school children and “snowbird” winter residents annually visit the station to learn about UC's ongoing agricultural research in the desert area, tour the 255-acre facility on a hay wagon and taste products that are grown in the vicinity.

Green peppers growing in the pizza garden.
When they visit the pizza garden, they'll learn many of their favorite foods come from plants grown nearby in the productive agricultural region. The garden is divided into four wedges. The wheat, which is used to make the pizza crust, and alfalfa, which is an important feed for dairy cows, the source of cheese, is grown in one wedge.

“Alfalfa is cheese in the making,” Collins said.

Tomatoes, onions and arugula are planted in the next wedge. The tomatoes are used for traditional sauce and onions are a healthy and flavorful topping, but arugula?

“Arugula is great on pizza,” Collins said. “It has a strong, peppery flavor.”

In another section, visitors can smell, feel and taste the herbs that season pizza sauce. Oregano, basil, sage, thyme, chives, parsley and rosemary fill the third wedge.

The fourth section holds bell peppers and rhubarb.

Fresh herbs and spices fill one wedge of the pizza garden.
“The rhubarb is just for fun,” Collins said.

The garden is encircled with marigolds for the appearance of crust, and the wedges are dotted with a variety of non-pizza plants, like ornamental kale, vinca and lavender. These plants also serve an educational purpose, said Sam Urie, the UC FARM SMART manager at the Desert REC.

“A diversity of plants attracts beneficial insects, so they help the garden out,” Urie said.

The mostly senior citizen visitors pay $20 per person for the station tour, which includes a homemade lunch featuring locally produced foods. This year, the centerpiece of the meal will be carrot-ginger soup.

The visitors' fees help offset the cost of the tours for local children, who pay just $3 each.

For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Urie at (760) 791-0261, surie@ucanr.edu.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 8:05 AM

Picture this: UCCE focuses on healthy meals for Healthy Weight Week (Jan. 18-24)

USDA MyPlate
Photos of sumptuous dishes are nearly as numerous as cat photos on social media. To sharpen people's focus on healthful eating, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition experts are using photos of food.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a new food graphic, MyPlate, to remind consumers to choose healthier foods. Work by Cooperative Extension in California that began years earlier influenced the adoption of MyPlate by USDA. Nutrition educators in California began using a plate graphic with USDA's My Pyramid several years ago in a research project with Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program participants. While evaluating the use of their graphic, which was very similar to USDA's MyPlate, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisors found that a graphic depiction such as the one USDA is using for MyPlate is abstract for many families.

“We discovered that our clients need to see photos showing real food combinations in order to apply the MyPlate message to real food choices,” said Cathi Lamp, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor. “They prefer to learn by viewing photographs with foods and meals they eat to see how it works and how they can implement the guide in their lives.”

A child places food on the MyPlate template.
In a project with more than 200 Latino consumers participating, the UCCE nutrition advisors learned which foods Latina, African American and other women would serve their families. Lamp and her colleagues developed materials with photographs of the preferred foods for nutrition education.

They evaluated the behavior of consumers who were trained with the revised Plan, Shop, Save and Cook curriculum with photos of food and compared it with the results of the original version of the lessons.

UCCE curriculum makes healthy eating easy.
“We found that the group receiving the revised Plan, Shop, Save and Cook and MyPlate materials reported the greatest change in the frequency of using MyPlate to make food choices, after considering differences among groups in initial behaviors and participant characteristics,” Lamp said.

UC CalFresh shows examples of healthy foods on plates.
Given the success of the photographs, UC Cooperative Extension created “My Healthy Plate” posters. Photographs of healthful food served on plates appear in all the EFNEP and UC CalFresh nutrition education materials, including the revised Plan, Shop, Save and Cook curriculum.

“Everybody enjoys looking at pictures of foods,” said Lamp. “So what we have now in our nutrition classes are lots of photographs of healthy examples.”

To listen to an interview with Cathi Lamp about My Healthy Plate in Spanish, visit Enseñando a comer ‘con sabor latino' con MiPlato at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Spanish/Noticias/radio/?uid=5983&ds=199.

For more than 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 8:35 AM

Avocado production in the San Joaquin Valley gets closer

Planting avocados in research plots at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center.
The San Joaquin Valley is the heart of California agriculture, but hasn't been a hospitable home for commercial avocado production. UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mary Lu Arpaia is conducting research to change that.

Avocados are native of semi subtropical high elevation rainforests in Mexico and Central America. A delicious and highly nutritious fruit, the cultivation of avocado has spread around the world. In California, growers are having commercial success in areas with year-round mild climates, such as San Diego and Ventura counties.

Though avocados are frost sensitive to be sure, it is not the cold winter climate that is the greatest impediment to avocado production in the state's inland valleys. It's the heat.

“Plant leaves have stomata, small openings that allow water vapor to move out of the plant to cool the leaf surface,” Arpaia said. “It works something like perspiration on people. Moisture exits the pores and cools the skin.”

The stomata on the leaves of Hass avocados – the variety most favored by California consumers – close when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. No moisture is released from the closed stomata and the plant overheats, causing fruit drop.

“To grow avocados in the valley, we need to have a variety that can tolerate heat better than Hass,” Arpaia said.

An avocado variety currently named 465202-99 was planted in 2013 and already has a substantial crop for 2015. It looks nice and has performed well in taste panels.
Over the past four years, Arpaia has planted avocado varieties selected by UC Riverside at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center near Exeter. Twelve different varieties are now growing in the plot. The UC Riverside selections have undergone rigorous testing for yield, the length of time ripe fruit can remain on the tree, and eating quality.

“The ones that we're testing in the field have eating quality comparable to Hass,” Arpaia said.

Lindcove is situated where the valley floor is gently rising toward the Sierra Nevada. The slope allows cold air to slip down to lower elevations, giving farmers in the area an advantage of a few degrees in the winter. The geography has made the area an important location for citrus production. But heat-tolerant avocados could be an alternative.

East-side citrus farmers may be looking for other options if Huanglongbing (HLB) disease makes its way to the area. Already, the pest that spreads HLB, Asian citrus psyllid, is established in some parts of the valley and spreading. Once a tree is infected with HLB, it cannot be cured.

“Growers have made good money on avocados,” Arpaia said. “In the San Joaquin Valley, water is relatively cheap and we have better water quality than San Diego County. There are good, well-drained soils. Avocados' frost sensitivity is similar to lemons. If farmers have property where they can grow lemons, they could try avocados.”

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 8:18 AM

Scientists ask USDA to add water to MyPlate

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute would like MyPlate to include an icon for water, such as the one shown above.
The brightly colored divided plate that lays out the USDA's model for healthy eating needs one little tweak, says the director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute Lorrene Ritchie. Don't take anything away, but add H20.

Ritchie has joined with dozens of nutrition and health professionals around the country to ask that the USDA put water onto MyPlate.

“We don't have all the answers to overcoming obesity, but the research on sugar-sweetened beverages is very clear,” Ritchie said. “When you drink beverages like soda, sports drinks or punch, the sugar gets absorbed very rapidly and the body doesn't recognize the calories. The result is excess calories and weight gain.”

The USDA introduced MyPlate in 2011 to reflect the message of its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Federal law requires that the guidelines be reviewed, updated and published every five years.

“USDA officials say that, in order to change MyPlate, there must be more information in the dietary guidelines about water,” Ritchie said. “We are working through the public comment process to ask the advisory board to promote water as the beverage of choice.”

The ultimate goal – a new water icon on MyPlate – is important because of its high visibility. MyPlate is found on elementary school classroom walls and cereal boxes; at community gardens and the grocery store produce aisle.

Drinking plain water is important for child nutrition and obesity prevention.
In preparing for a visit with USDA officials at their Washington, D.C., headquarters, Christina Hecht, UC Nutrition Policy Institute coordinator, asked UC Cooperative Extension specialists in California for input on MyPlate. Their enthusiasm was unanimous.

“They see MyPlate as the face of the dietary guidelines and are very supportive of using the image as a teaching tool,” Hecht said. “They also supported the idea of adding a symbol for water.”

She shared the California educators' thoughts on MyPlate with her USDA contacts. “When they get a story from the field, it really matters to them,” Hecht said.

Ritchie and her colleagues around the country submitted a “Best of Science” letter to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee imploring them to strengthen the language for drinking water.

“Current research indicates that children, in particular, are subject to ‘voluntary dehydration' from low intake of plain water,” the letter says. “Between 2005 and 2010, more than a quarter of children aged 4 to 13 years old in the U.S. did not have a drink of plain water on two consecutive days.”

Instead, they are drinking sugary beverages. National surveys in the early 2000s found that, on any given day, 84 percent of 2- to 5-year-old children drank sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sports drinks and fruit punch. The calories amounted to 11 percent of the children's total energy intake.

Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Insitute, testifies at a congressional hearing about strategies to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S.
Since the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were issued, knowledge about the magnitude of risk and extent of adverse effects from sugar-sweetened beverages has increased. The Best of Science letter outlines for the advisory board many of the proven consequences of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in America:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages – including sodas, juice drinks, pre-sweetened tea and coffee drinks, and fortified or energy drinks – are among the top sources of calories for children and adolescents.
  • Between the late 1960s and early 2000s the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages doubled.
  • While the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men, the average U.S. consumption is 17 teaspoons per day.
  • Low-income populations have higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beveragesand Latino children drink more of them than white children.
  • Cardiovascular disease, present in more than one-third of American adults, is now understood to be exacerbated by the inflammatory effects of excess sugar consumption.
  • Excess sugar consumption is a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a precursor to diabetes.
To learn more, read the Best of Science Letter signed by 14 prominent nutrition educators from around the nation by clicking the link below.
 
Posted on Wednesday, January 7, 2015 at 7:15 AM

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