- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators have discovered that, when it comes to teaching consumers how to eat right, a picture is worth of thousand words.
“We’ve been teaching people for years about MyPyramid and the dietary guidelines, serving sizes and the number of servings they should eat, but many were having a hard time translating that to what exactly to put on their plates,” said Cathi Lamp, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Tulare County UCCE.
In an effort to simplify nutrition education, UCCE started with a graphic of a plate, with half designated for fruits and vegetables and a quarter each for protein and grains. However, the concept was still too abstract for concrete thinkers.
“Then we hit upon the idea of photographing familiar foods in the right proportions and showing actual serving sizes arranged on a plate,” Lamp said.
Lamp, and the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisors for Fresno County, Connie Schneider, and Kern County, Margaret Johns, set out to review 24-hour recall surveys that had been conducted by participants in UCCE nutrition education classes. The 24-hour recall surveys, a mainstay in nutrition research, ask participants to write down everything they have eaten in the previous 24 hours. Each of the advisors focused on recalls from target population groups – Latinos, African-Americans and the general population.
Once they knew what foods people eat, Lamp, Schneider and Johns began the labor-intensive process of preparing and photographing test pictures showing healthy food combinations. Meals included chicken, pizza, spaghetti, sandwiches, tacos, pork chops, fish, stir fry, hamburger, soup and eggs.
Eighteen plates of food were photographed for initial, informal testing. Lamp took the photos to an education session at the local WIC office, where pregnant women and new mothers receive federal nutrition support.
“We handed out a little form and asked the moms if they could identify the foods, whether these were foods they would eat and, if not, what changes they would make,” Lamp said. “The WIC educators loved the images. They could see the value of images of healthy food right off the bat.”
The next step will be cognitive testing of the photos with target clientele, adjustment of the photos based on the results of the testing, retesting the photos in a nutrition education setting and analyzing the results.