Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: nutrition

Get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition

During summer break, healthy food and fitness often take a long vacation. For many, the vacation is ending and it's time to do some homework. Study these back-to-school tips for the start to a healthy school year. If you follow a balanced diet and stay physically active, there's no way you can't get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition!

  • Don't skip breakfast! Studies show children who eat breakfast perform better in school.
  • If you pack a homemade lunch for your children, include a good balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat free dairy products, and lean meats and proteins.
  • Provide new options! Pack exotic fruits like kiwi or allow your child to pick a fun new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. They are more likely to eat their lunch if they helped prepare it.
  • Reinforce cleanliness and remind your children to wash their hands before they eat or pack a moist towelette or hand sanitizer in their lunchbox.
  • Physical activity and exercise are important and help improve a child's health. Children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day, and adults need to be active for at least 30 minutes a day. Make exercise a family affair and get the physical activity everyone needs! Go for a weekend hike, walk the dog together, or ride your bikes after dinner.

Try this quick and easy recipe for your child's lunch or mix it up and substitute a variety of their favorite vegetables instead.

Chicken pita pocket with spinach leaves and red bell pepper.
Chicken pita sandwich


  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 4 ounces cooked skinless, boneless chicken
  • 1/2 cup sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat Italian vinaigrette
  • 1 (6-inch) whole-grain pita, cut in half


  1. Combine spinach, chicken, bell pepper, and vinaigrette in a bowl; lightly toss and mix ingredients.
  2. Cut the pita pieces in half.
  3. Using a spoon, fill each pita half with the tossed ingredients.
  4. Once assembled, lay them flat and pack them up for your child to enjoy during lunch.

Recipe source: http://www.health.com/health/recipe/0,,10000001983452,00.html


Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 9:16 AM
Tags: nutrition (89), school lunch (1)

Growing healthy kids in a Pixley garden

Third-graders at Pixley elementary with their summer garden.
An old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. The teachers at Pixley Elementary School have found that it takes not just a village, but a unique combination of community agencies, good curricular materials and a little bit of dirt. That's right, dirt. In Pixley, they are growing healthy kids in a school garden.

A motivated third-grade teacher, Fidel Garcia, applied for grants from the Tulare County Farm Bureau, California Ag in the Classroom, the Dairy Council of California and LifeLab. He invited UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Grilda Gomez into the classroom to share the UC Cooperative Extension “Nutrition to grow on” lessons. A local nursery, Bonnie Plants, donated seeds and transplants to grow cabbage, zucchini and onions in the school garden.

Garcia asked the other Pixley Elementary third-grade teachers to be involved. David McGrady's class researched and planted herbs. Garcia's class and Ralph Gutierrez' class planted the main garden. All the students regularly visited to weed, irrigate and watch the vegetables grow.

At harvest time, UCCE's Gomez worked with the students to prepare a fresh coleslaw using vegetables representing the six plant parts they learned about in the classroom – stems, seeds, leaves flowers, fruit and roots.

UC nutrition educator Grilda Gomez prepares coleslaw with Pixley Elementary third-graders.
Following is the recipe the third-graders prepared:

Crunchy coleslaw

8 cups finely shredded cabbage (2 ½ pound medium head)

1 cup finely sliced celery

½ cup shredded carrot (1 medium carrot)

½ cup sliced green onion

¼ cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons salad oil

Pinch celery salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup wine vinegar


Combine cabbage, celery, carrot, green onion and parsley. Pour on salad oil and toss until slaw is evenly coated. Sprinkle on and toss in seasonings. Finally, add wine vinegar and toss.

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 8:36 AM
Tags: Grilda Gomez (1), nutrition (89)

President Napolitano launches UC Global Food Initiative

On July 1, the University of California announced our new Global Food Initiative to address one of the critical issues of our time: How to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.

UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is already a critical partner with California's farmers and consumers, providing growers and ranchers with scientifically tested production techniques, educating families about nutrition, improving food safety and addressing environmental concerns. With programs in every California county, our research and extension network in California reaches from Tulelake to El Centro and more than 130 countries working to solve agricultural problems at home and abroad.

The initiative will align the university's research, outreach and operations in a sustained effort to develop, demonstrate and export solutions — throughout California, the U.S. and the world — for food security, health and sustainability.

Check below for some key highlights from UC ANR and our 10 campuses. For more information about the initiative, visit: http://www.ucop.edu/initiatives/global-food-initiative.html

President Napolitano joins UCLA student Ian Davies in student-run garden.


  • In the past 10 years, 500 million citrus trees have been grown from disease-free budwood provided by Lindcove Research and Extension Center (REC).
  • Desert REC has 1,300 carrot varieties in production for USDA's carrot improvement program.
  • California became one of the leading producers of fresh blueberries after UCCE researchers identified varieties that could thrive in California, so long as the growers acidify the soils and maintain acidic conditions in the irrigation water.
  • 5,400 UC Master Gardener volunteers play a key role in helping Californians grow food in their own backyard, working in 50 California counties to teach research-based gardening techniques that minimize the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Currently, more than 1,200 community, school and demonstration gardens in California are managed by UC Master Gardeners.
  • Through our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program (also known as SNAP-ED), UC Cooperative Extension works with community agencies and schools todeliver nutrition education to low-income families, improving their health and food security and helping preventchildhood obesity. EFNEP and CalFresh programs are currently operated in 33 counties reach 222,000 members of the public each year.

UC Berkeley

  • The Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) is an interdisciplinary institute launched in 2013 dedicated to research, education, policy initiatives and practices to support sustainable food and agriculture systems. BFI is catalyzing and fostering transformative changes in food systems, to promote resilience, justice, diversity and health, from local to global scales.
  • The Atkins Center for Weight and Health (CWH) works with community groups to develop and evaluate programs to support healthy eating and active living, with a focus on children and families in diverse communities.

UC Davis

  • As the largest UC campus, with more than 3,000 acres specifically devoted to agricultural research and teaching, UC Davis is addressing the pressing food and agricultural challenges that face California, the nation and the world.
  • In addition to the World Food Center, UC Davis hosts 26 centers with a significant emphasis on agriculture and food, including the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, Center for Produce Safety, Foods for Health Institute, Seed Biotechnology Center, Postharvest Technology Center, Plant Breeding Center, Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, Center for Food Animal Health, and Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
  • In April, UC Davis unveiled the largest anaerobic biodigester on a college campus, using technology invented by one of its engineering professors to turn organic waste into renewable energy. The system, now in commercial use, is designed to daily convert 50 tons of organic waste to 12,000 kWh of renewable electricity, diverting 20,000 tons of waste from local landfills each year. 

UC Irvine

  • Anthropologist Michael Montoya leads the Community Knowledge Project, an action-research partnership with community organizations in Santa Ana. Past projects have tackled obesity prevention and school lunch/food access. Upcoming project on diabetes prevention in Fullerton. 
  • In AY 2014-15, the Sustainability Initiative, in conjunction with social ecologist John Whiteley and UC Irvine's oceans faculty, will host a regional conference at the National Academies of Sciences' Beckman Center on Ocean Health, Sustainable Fishing, and Food Security.
  • The Sustainability Initiative convenes The Garden Project, which coordinates the four campus community gardens (three of which are student-run) and builds links with the broader community involved in sustainable food production in Orange County, particularly in low-income communities.


  • The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UCLA–USC Center for Population and Health Disparities — among other centers — are actively involved in research and community projects to help improve food availability and security.
  • The Student Food Collective holds farmers markets in UCLA's main plaza and manages a food-buying co-op. Multiple produce gardens on campus increase sustainability practices, provide more healthful options and serve as educational tools to facilitate healthy lifestyle choices by the campus and surrounding community.
  • The UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden promotes plant diversity and ecologically sound practices.
  • UCLA faculty, students and staff collaborate with LAUSD food services and medical staff on research and programs to promote healthy eating for the school district's 600,000 students. 

UC Merced

  • Public Health Professor A. Susana Ramirez and her students this summer will interview with customers at a mobile farmer's market that travels to different parts of Merced County to better understand food access issues facing Merced County residents, and the relationship between access to healthy foods and obesity.
  • UC Merced is working to form a Farmers Consortium to promote the campus's interest in doing business with local farmers, in addition to direct communication with local farms.
  • UC Merced's 400-square-foot community garden was developed on campus in spring 2014 by Engineers for a Sustainable World. Fruit and vegetables harvested will be donated to local food banks. The site will eventually be used for education and outreach.
  • The campus's Early Childhood Education Center serves as a delivery point for Rancho Piccolo, a community- supported agriculture. Many faculty and staff are members and are able to get local, fresh fruit and vegetables every week. 

UC Riverside 

  • A chemist has applied chemical tests to juice products sold as pomegranate juice or pomegranate juice blends, in order to authenticate their content. Another researcher is studying the effects of pomegranate juice on prostate cancer progression. 

UC San Diego 

  • Food and Fuel for the 21st Century supports the development of innovative, sustainable and commercially viable solutions for the renewable production of food, energy, green chemistry and bio-products using photosynthetic organisms — including converting solar energy into food and fuel, without the use of fossil fuels.
  • Department of Literature students can enroll in “The Politics of Food” course that utilizes UC San Diego campus gardens for summer research. Students learn how community gardens are governed, planting their own seedlings and identifying campus markets for the produce they grow. In the Division of Biological Sciences, courses such as “Fundamentals of Plant Biology” introduce students to plant genetic engineering, plant disease and stress and sustainable agriculture.
  • The UC San Diego School of Medicine's Child Development and Community Health program initiatives include Network for a Healthy California: Campaigns and programs focus on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity levels and food security among low-income families. Healthy Works: This program initiates new farmers markets, promotes additional school and community gardens and helps residents to stay physically active and eat nutritious foods.


  • In 2009, UCSF launched the Smart Choice Smart U program http://smartchoice.ucsf.edu) in partnership with MyFitnessPal, a leading mobile application and website and Fitbit, an activity tracker, that combines food tracking with physical activity to give real-time feedback about personal wellness goals.

UC Santa Cruz 

  • The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UC Santa Cruz has developed cutting-edge programs in food systems and organic farming research and extension, national and international work in agroecology, and a renowned apprenticeship program.
  • The nearly 1,500 graduates of its Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture have carried hands-on experience into teaching, farming and advocacy positions worldwide for more than 45 years.
  • An on-site affiliate, Life Lab, uses the Farm for K–12 school tours, teacher trainings, summer camps, and the “Food What?” youth empowerment program.
  • The Central Coast School Food Alliance (CCSFA) is a collaborative initiative that serves school children fresh and wholesome food in Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties. Stakeholders include food service directors, non-profit leaders on community food systems development, researchers, educators, as well as elected local, state, and federal officials.
Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 1:07 PM
Tags: Food (12), Global Food (1), Health (6), Nutrition (89), Obesity prevention (3), Sustainability (2)

Senior citizens get nutrition primer from UC program

Lela Rigdon, 93, left, and Nellie Rios, 90, try a 'monster smoothie' at UC CalFresh class.
Alice Escalante is something of a circuit rider in Tulare County. A UC nutrition educator, Escalante travels to rural communities, seeking out groups of low-income senior citizens to offer education that will spur healthier eating.

“I've reached more than 500 adults in the last year – in places like Exeter, Porterville, Cutler and Goshen,” Escalante said. “I go to senior centers, churches, welfare-to-work programs.”

Escalante visits each facility four times for one-hour sessions that include lessons from UC's research-based “Plan, Shop, Save, Cook” curriculum, plus physical activity and a cooking demonstration. Last week, Escalante presented the training to senior citizens in Exeter, a city of 10,000 near the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“When I go around the valley to different sites, a lot of people are familiar with ranch,” Escalante said holding up a bottle of dressing. “They like ranch, they use ranch for everything – pizza, fries, chicken wings and then we drench it on our salads. But did you know just two tablespoons is 160 calories. What if we switched it up, and tried a little honey mustard dressing? Two tablespoons is only 70 calories.”

Escalante explained the difference between good fats and bad fats and she taught the participants best practices for budget-minded grocery shopping.

Look at quantity, store-brand products and convenience to find savings, Escalante advised. Buying in bulk is often cheaper, but for seniors living alone, it may not be the most economical choice.

“You have to look at the size of your household,” Escalante said. “If we are going to save a few pennies buying the larger amount, but it's going to go to waste, it's not worth it. You have to look at the unit price, but also your household.

After leading the nutrition lesson, Escalante encouraged everyone to move to the beat of a Latin tune.

"Come on everybody, let's get up," she called. "You can do it sitting down. If you're sitting down, use your hands. If you can stand, go around in circles."

To close the class, Escalante whipped up a “monster smoothie,” which looks like “something that oozed out of a swamp, but tastes great and has monster nutrition,” said the recipe handout. A key ingredient is kale, a leafy green that contributes vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K, plus the minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. Find the recipe below the video:

Monster Smoothie


  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 1 overripe banana, cliced
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons toasted almonds or walnuts (optional)


  1. Put the kale, banana, apple, blueberries, yogurt, orange juice and nuts in athe blender. Put the top on tightly.
  2. Turn the blender to medium and blend until the mixture is very smooth.
  3. Serve right away or store in a thermos or covered in the refrigerator up to 4 hours.
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Banking on nutrition

It's a drizzly winter morning, and dozens of volunteers at the San Francisco–Marin Food Bank are slowly breaking down a 2,000-pound sack of whole oats into 1-pound bags, their hair tucked back in neat plastic caps. A decade ago, volunteers were more likely to be boxing up canned foods items. Today, 60 percent of everything ferried out of this warehouse is fresh produce. No soda or chips are in sight, and whole grains like these General Mills oats are standard.

For food banks nationwide to move in a similar healthy direction, coordinated efforts must increase at all levels. It will take leadership like that provided by Feeding America, the national food bank network organization; expanded support for nutrition policies at the local and regional levels; and donor efforts to supply more healthful foods. It's a tall order. But with the growing ranks of the food-insecure and obese, there is more pressure — and desire — than ever to provide low-income families with healthful food and create support for food bank nutrition policies to ensure that happens, says Patricia Crawford, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and director of UC Berkeley's Atkins Center for Weight and Health (CWH), a partnership between the College of Natural Resources and the School of Public Health.

“People managing food banks are taking charge and doing the difficult thing of modifying the healthfulness of the food donations they solicit,” says Karen Webb, a nutritional epidemiologist at CWH. “On the one hand, the food banks want an ample supply of foods to hand out, but they're also advocates for people in our most vulnerable population, so the nutritional quality of that food is important.”

There has been progress, which CWH researchers and their colleagues, at the request of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, have documented in ‘A Movement Toward Nutrition-Focused Food Banking,' an upcoming discussion paper to be released in summer 2014. The report details the evolution of food banking as the number of people served by these organizations jumped a whopping 46 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to Feeding America. Today, 12 percent of the population uses the emergency food system. Driven by increased demand, food banks have shifted from an emergency lifeline to a service filling a chronic need.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank was an early adopter in formalizing their nutrition policies. Allison Pratt and Jenny Lowe manage nutrition policy. PHOTO: Molly Oleson

While organizations move to provide more healthful food, it's clear that pantry users, or clients, want these foods. A 2011 CWH study asked clients to rank calorie-dense snack-type foods and beverages as well as healthy options by order of preference.

“Food pantry clients ranked the most nutritious foods highest,” says Webb, a co-author of the IOM report. “Those foods are expensive, and they want to receive them. Meat, dairy, and fresh produce are at the top of their list, while soda and candy rank lowest.”

What policy looks like

Getting healthier food into clients' hands requires changes in both policy and practice, but what exactly is a nutrition-driven food policy? Many stakeholders are trying to effect change — food banks and the umbrella groups that support them, organizations and corporations that donate, and state and federal governments — but there are few cohesive policies and common standards to govern how they work together.

To start with, food banks can benefit from formal written guidelines that address the nutritional quality of the foods and beverages that they purchase or acquire from donations, according to the recommendations in the IOM report, whose authors include CWH's Elizabeth Campbell and Michelle Ross, Heather Hudson of the Food Bank of Central New York, and Ken Hecht, formerly with California Food Policy Advocates. A policy should guide the nutritional quality of the food bank's inventory as well as provide data analysis to track how successful the food bank is at distributing foods like produce and limiting unhealthful ones such as processed crackers and chips. Some 56 out of 200 food banks have a policy in place, according to a recent Feeding America survey, but more must be done.

Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) is a policy model, Crawford says. It established a written policy in June 2013, with the help of the nonprofit anti-hunger group MAZON and CWH. The project, which included several other food banks, was funded by Kaiser Permanente.

“We held focus groups with staff members and agency representatives,” says Jenny Lowe, ACCFB's nutrition education manager. “We wanted to get everyone on the same page. We asked, what are our practices? We'd been following this for a long time, but never wrote it down.”

The food bank's policy is now clear. They purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, low-sugar canned fruits, low-salt canned vegetables, low-fat milk, lean proteins, nut butters, beans, whole grains, packaged meals and soup.

ACCFB volunteers Kathy Herman and Jigme Norby package fresh produce. PHOTO: Molly Oleson
To track the healthfulness of food, they use a computer system that ranks inventory by nutritional level (1, 2, or 3) and employ “traffic light” labeling on the warehouse floor and on order forms. Green is “choose frequently,” yellow “moderately,” and red “sparingly.”

“Green” foods are now more readily available at food banks across California because of the California Association of Food Banks' (CAFB) Farm to Family program, which connects state growers and packers to food banks. In 2011, CAFB, a nonprofit, membership-based umbrella group, sponsored AB152, now a state law, which enables farmers to get a 10 percent tax break on the inventory costs of fruits and vegetables they donate.

CAFB exemplifies how agriculture, advocates, and food banks can work together to create policies that incentivize the support system for healthy diets. Since 2005, the group has increased food bank produce donations by 92 million pounds of fruits and vegetables that might have otherwise been plowed under in the fields. “In California, we have a progressive agricultural community as well as progressive food bank organizers,” Crawford says. “It's that convergence that has made California a model and brought national attention to what we're doing.”

Other positive steps: Feeding America appointed a director of nutrition in 2011, and in 2012, it implemented Foods to Encourage, nutrition guidelines for promoting health—the food bank network's first-time effort at national guidelines. It's also running a pilot program that connects food-insecure clients who have Type 2 diabetes with nutrition, health education, and medical care.

Even with successes like these, there's still a long way to go.

Fresh food, new challenges

Six California food banks participated in a 2010–11 CWH study on inventory trends, funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. All six had significantly increased the amount of produce they provide to pantries, the study found, but hardy onions and potatoes made up about half of those gains. While the increase in fresh produce was dramatic, getting a variety of vitamins and minerals from different types of produce is key to good nutrition, Webb says.

“Food banks now must tackle the next challenge: adding more colorful yet hardy vegetables, such as bell peppers and broccoli," Webb said.

Part of that challenge is providing better distribution systems to pantries. Many food banks boast state-of-the-art facilities with refrigerated trucks and big walk-in refrigerators, but the pantries they serve are often basement kitchens and church halls with little access to refrigeration or storage. Policy changes must consider how to improve these conditions. For example, ACCFB provides farmers-market style distribution in parking lots to some clients, and both ACCFB and the state of New York help provide pantries with equipment grants to improve facilities.

ACCFB volunteer Dre Dandrewin packages fresh produce. PHOTO: Molly Oleson
Sourcing is another hurdle. Although emergency food clients strongly prefer low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and whole grains over soda and other less nutritious foods, it can be difficult for food banks to procure donations that align with these preferences and with nutritional quality guidelines. In 2013, 66 percent of donated foods came from big companies and represented the largest source for food banks, according to Feeding America. Donations of sugary beverages and snack foods have declined substantially, but have not disappeared from the shelves of the six California food banks in the CWH study. In 2010, one California food bank alone distributed over a million pounds—208 million calories—of what Crawford calls “liquid sugar” drinks. “That's a heck of a lot of excess calories going out to the most vulnerable people, who have a greater likelihood to be diabetic and overweight than higher-income folks,” Webb says.

Crawford notes that both the Central New York and Alameda County food banks have successfully implemented nutrition policies without offending donors or losing support.

Moving nutrition forward

In February 2012, anti-hunger leaders convened in Oakland, Calif., to discuss their findings from the 2010–11 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study. There, CWH and California Food Policy Advocates called for food bank procurement policies that meet or exceed the Foods to Encourage guidelines, which were due to be released later that year.

In the most recent nudge forward, the IOM report recommends that items available through U.S. Department of Agriculture food distribution programs align with key recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Most food that the USDA supplies to food banks is already healthy, a recent study showed, and the agency is moving quickly to further improve nutritional quality by adding items like whole-grain pastas and brown rice. The report also recommends that food banks and advocates work with donors to find new ways to incentivize nutritious donations.

The IOM report represents a formidable increase in visibility for the issue of food bank nutrition, and Crawford wants to take advantage of the momentum. She's calling for a meeting of key stakeholders to discuss how to keep improvements to the emergency food system's nutritional quality moving forward.

Obesity and diabetes risk continue to plague the nation's health, and food banks will face big challenges in the coming year, including an expected rise in the number of clients as a result of the recent $8.6 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps — part of the farm bill passed in February, and as a consequence of California's drought, which is expected to bump up food prices.

“Those of us working in the field of hunger and food insecurity want the best for the people we serve,” Crawford says. “There is a moral imperative to do more than to provide just calories. We must provide foods that will help protect the health of the most vulnerable in our society.”

This article originally appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Breakthroughs, the magazine of the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources.

Posted on Friday, June 6, 2014 at 8:32 AM
  • Author: Kim Girard
Tags: hunger (5), nutrition (89), Patricia Crawford (2)

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