Cooperative Extension Fresno County
University of California
Cooperative Extension Fresno County

Posts Tagged: nutrition education

Encouraging students to eat their vegetables

Which end of an asparagus do you eat?  I am not going to eat that, it's too spicy! Pink milk cartons (non-fat) are only for girls.

A student leader and student assistant help hand out the bell peppers.
These and many other questions and comments came from students and staff at schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) during recent efforts to expose students to a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. A collaboration between SMBSD staff and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources's UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties (UC CalFresh) was initiated in the 2014/2015 school year to work on increasing the likelihood that students will select and consume vegetables offered through the school meal program.

The collaboration included three components: monthly, school-wide seasonal produce tastings facilitated by UC CalFresh and supported by the school district; Smarter Lunchroom Movement strategies implemented by district food service staff with support from UC CalFresh; and classroom nutrition education with curricula provided by UC CalFresh and implemented by participating classroom teachers.

The monthly produce tastings were a coordinated effort between the UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators, student leaders from the Student Nutrition Advisory Council, and Cafeteria staff. The first goal was to familiarize the students in the five elementary schools with local, seasonal vegetables – and eventually get them on the school menu and on students' plates. During the months of March, April and May of 2015 more than 4,000 students at five participating schools

Example of how students voted.
got the opportunity to try new vegetables like Brussels sprouts, asparagus and sweet bell pepper. After tasting new vegetables, students then placed a ticket in either a “yes” or “no” box to indicate whether they would like to see those vegetables again on their school menu.

Student leaders participated in all aspects of the monthly tastings, from advising on what produce items to sample, to making signs advertising the featured produce, to handing out the samples to their peers. The voting results were overwhelmingly positive with a majority of students in favor of putting Brussels sprouts, asparagus and yellow bell peppers on the school menu. As a result of these findings, and the students' enthusiasm for trying new things, food service staff are working on incorporating a Brussels sprouts salad into their regular menu.

The second component included Smarter Lunchroom Movement (SLM) strategies from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics. These strategies were introduced at a cafeteria manager training facilitated by UC CalFresh. At the training, district staff were introduced to SLM concepts and encouraged to identify two changes they wanted to implement in their

Smarter Lunchroom Movement sign advertising what's for lunch
school cafeterias before the end of the year. Changes identified included improving signage on the salad bar and in the entryway, creating a cafeteria brand (i.e. Bulldog Café) to encourage students to take pride in their lunchroom, and creating a more welcoming atmosphere so students could sit and enjoy their school meal. In addition, UC CalFresh staff made a regular habit of eating lunch in the school cafeteria with students when they were on campus for other nutrition education events.

Students, at first surprised seeing adults eating school meals, welcomed the nutrition educators to their tables. Staff took the opportunity to talk to the students about their food, model healthy food habits and dispel myths about their food. Myths included things like pink milk cartons (non-fat) were only for girls and school lunches are unhealthy. By the end of the school year, all participating schools had improved their scores on the Smarter Lunchroom Self-Assessment Scorecard and plans are currently being developed to provide districtwide cafeteria branding.

The third component was the in-class curricula. Classroom curricula has been the primary focus of the UC CalFresh program for many years. UC CalFresh provides “No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits” and in class food demonstrations to enrolled teachers (Educator Extenders). These Educator Extenders teach evidence-based nutrition education lessons based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This year, as the collaboration with the school cafeteria developed, UC CalFresh staff rolled out the concept of Harvest of the Month mini kits and farm stands to coincide with the produce item being featured in the monthly cafeteria tastings. Educator Extenders had the

Asparagus Farm Stand showcasing student artwork
option of connecting classroom curricula with cafeteria efforts through the Harvest of the Month mini-lesson, then posting their students' work on the farm stand bulletin boards in their school cafeteria. The lessons and the student artwork helped to bring the three components together for students in all age groups.

This collaborative effort has brought about many opportunities to educate, expose and inform students and staff about local produce and how delicious it can be in their school lunches. Students who once thought that sweet yellow, green and red bell peppers were too spicy had the opportunity to sample them and see for themselves. Students who did not know which end to eat an asparagus from got to sample it and then vote on whether or not they wanted to try it again. Food service staff also got to see how excited their students were to sample new items, including Brussels sprouts, and have a voice in their school menu.

For more pictures, visit the UC CalFresh Facebook page.




Brussels sprouts tasting set-up
Asparagus poster made by the student leaders

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 10:09 AM
  • Author: Shannon Klisch
  • Contributor: Lisa Paniagua
  • Contributor: Melissa LaFreniere

Food assistance and education combine to ease food insecurity

UC ANR nutrition educator teaches the Plan, Shop, Save & Cook curriculum.
Celebrities have taken the “food stamp challenge,” trying to feed themselves on a budget equivalent to federal food benefits for the poor. Most have failed, but UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) has found a way to help low-income families successfully stretch their food dollars and eat healthier while receiving food assistance.

The curriculum, called “Plan, Shop, Save & Cook,” was adapted for UC CalFresh nutrition education by UC ANR Cooperative Extension academics. The program, offered in 31 California counties, is proven to help recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) eat healthier and avoid running out of food by the end of the month. In California, SNAP is known as CalFresh.

The proof stems from an analysis of pre- and post-program surveys of nearly 4,000 adults who completed the four-part “Plan, Shop, Save & Cook” course. Researchers concluded that food assistance combined with nutrition and resource management education reduces food insecurity in low-income families. The results were published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Plan, Shop, Save & Cook was implemented in California in 2011. From 2011 to 2013, educators in 15 counties asked participants to fill out a brief survey before and one month after completing the four-week course. The survey aimed to determine whether they were using key strategies shared in the classes, including planning meals, using a shopping list, comparing prices, reading labels, thinking about healthy choices and eating varied meals.

“We confirmed that our program helps educate and motivate participants, leading to healthier eating,” said Lucia Kaiser, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis. “Increasing resource management skills – the ability shop smart and read food labels – is important to reducing food insecurity.”

Kaiser, the study's lead author, also pointed out that receiving the supplemental food benefits is a critical factor in addressing food insecurity.

“Families need SNAP and access to healthy foods in their neighborhoods,” Kaiser said. “The people in our study who were receiving food assistance were eating the best. It's really important to help eligible people get enrolled and receive food assistance.”

In the United States, 14.5 percent of households are “food insecure” – they don't have access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. Among those below the income eligibility cutoff for SNAP, the percentage of food insecure households is considerably higher. Food insecurity has been associated with inadequate nutrient intake, poor mental and physical health, substandard economic performance, increased risk of chronic disease, poor psychological cognitive function and obesity.

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but research has shown that body mass index is greater in households with lower socio-economic status,” Kaiser said. “Food insecurity and obesity may coexist because the least expensive foods are often lowest in nutrients and highest in calories, and in low income areas, healthy food is not always available.”

A higher level of food assistance benefits may allow families to purchase more fruits, vegetables, whole grain products and lean dairy and protein foods. Effective education also contributes to these healthy eating habits. The Plan, Shop, Save & Cook classes are offered to small groups of adults in community settings and include skill-building activities, such as writing a menu and comparing it to dietary recommendations. Participants taste low-cost healthy foods and receive recipes to try at home.

For more information about Plan, Shop, Save & Shop contact a county UC ANR Cooperative Extension office.

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 1:54 PM

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

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

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

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

Five ways NOT to poison friends and family during the holidays

The food-safety danger zone is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.
‘Tis the season for gathering with friends and family and eating. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus for the rest of us, many of us invite people to our homes during the holidays and leave food out to graze. Leaving food out for more than two hours can be hazardous to your health and that of your guests, caution UC Cooperative Extension nutrition experts.

You may be thinking, “My family has eaten food that has been sitting on the table longer than two hours and survived.” 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 the holidays and all year long, 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.

Guacamole and salsa shouldn't be left out for longer than 2 hours.
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.”

While you're watching football, she also recommends not leaving food out the length of a 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.”

Washing your hands can prevent bacteria from spreading to food.
Food safety begins with clean hands.

“We put an emphasis on hand washing because it can prevent cross-contamination, which helps prevent foodborne illness and can keep us healthy during the flu season,” said Connie Schneider, director of the UC Youth, Families and Communities Statewide Program.

She recommends rubbing your hands together with soap and water for 20 seconds to thoroughly clean them.

The UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) teaches hand washing as a food safety practice in its nutrition classes for adults and children. After taking the class in San Diego County, 72 percent of the 340 participating adults improved their safe food-handling practices and 55 percent of 1,231 children improved, said Wooten Swanson, who oversees the nutrition and food safety education program.

For more food safety resources, visit UC Cooperative Extension's  "Food Safety for the Holidays" website and Nebraska and Iowa State Cooperative Extension's food safety website at  For USDA recommended temperatures for cooking meat, visit

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 8:30 AM

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This material was funded by USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The USDA does not endorse products, services, or organizations. 

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