Posts Tagged: Marc Sanchez
UC creates recipes for healthier diets
University of California Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Marc Sanchez brings the fearsome beast with him on school visits to classrooms in Merced and Stanislaus counties.
“Let me introduce to you the Green Monster,” Sanchez says to a classroom of second-graders at Yamato Colony Elementary School in Livingston. “Is anybody scared?”
“Noooo,” the kids roar in defiance of the beast.
The school visits are just one of the ways UC researchers, educators and cooperative extension representatives across the state are encouraging children and their families to eat healthier. They also are introducing them to fresh produce, doing cooking demonstrations and helping school districts prepare healthier meals.
About 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the last 30 years, obesity rates have more than doubled for children ages 6 to 11 and tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19. It's an ominous statistic that could be improved if children ate more fruits and veggies.
Connecting schoolkids to farmers
UC's nutrition education programs try to promote better eating habits by connecting schools to local farms and farmers. Known as farm-to-school programs, students learn about where their food comes from and how it's grown — and in the process, learn to eat a balanced diet. Often, the children then become the conduit that brings healthier eating to the whole family.
“UC is on the forefront of these programs,” said Theresa Spezzano, UC Cooperative Extension director for Stanislaus and Merced counties and a nutrition, family and consumer science adviser. “The majority of the work is in some sort of school-based program.”
Nutrition education from UC reaches children, families and classrooms in nearly every part of the state.
Cooperative Extension, part of UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, runs two federal programs for low-income families in California — the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. Together they reach more than 180,000 people.
Changing the corner store
At UCLA, public health professor Alex Ortega leads an effort to make more healthy food available in low-income urban areas by working with neighborhood convenience stores to replace junk food with fresh fruits and vegetables.
The project is based in East Los Angeles — a predominately Mexican-American community where diabetes and obesity rates are high. Four stores have agreed to restock their shelves and refrigerators. In return, storeowners are being trained in how to market fresh fruits and vegetables. There is also an outreach program that uses local high school students to educate nearby residents about healthy eating and what's available at the transformed markets.
“It's just one part of a very complex puzzle. We understand other things have to be going on, including promoting more physical activity,” said Ortega, director of the UCLA Center for Population Health and Health Disparities that is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “Providing access to healthy food is significant part of the puzzle. If people don't have access and health education, you can't expect the community to be eating healthy.”
Ortega said data are being gathered on the effectiveness of the five-year project in East Los Angeles. But even if they don't find extensive shifts in behavior, “just getting people in the community thinking about eating healthier is a major step,” he said.
Education + access = healthy choices
Although there have been few long-term studies on the effectiveness of nutrition education programs, one small study of four schools in Sacramento and Stanislaus counties suggests that farm-to-school education and access to healthier food can help lower obesity rates among children.
The schools are taking part in a UC Davis and Cooperative Extension program called Shaping Healthy Choices, which includes an exercise component, along with nutrition education and access to more fresh produce.
That kind of multi-component program is “a promising model for how schools can play a role in promoting healthy food choices and reducing childhood obesity,” said Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, co-director of the Center for Nutrition in Schools at UC Davis, who helped lead the study.
In Sanchez's experience, the best way to reach kids is to make eating healthy food a positive experience and one they are likely to remember.
“I can tell them, ‘eat this because it's better for you,' but they hear that all the time,” he said. “I want to do something that catches their eye. What's more appealing, calling it a Green Monster or a spinach drink?”
View a slide show below to experience Marc Sanchez' interaction with children as he teaches healthful eating:/h3>/h3>/h3>
UCCE gets local farm products into children's meals
The San Joaquin Valley produces fruits and vegetables for the nation. Why are the school children living here being deprived of this healthful and delicious bounty?
That’s the question Terri Spezzano asked when she was hired to be the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Stanislaus County six years ago. She made it her mission to get fresh local food in the hands of the county’s youth.
“Kids are eating canned peaches that have come from orchards next to their schools, been shipped sometimes overseas and then back again,” Spezzano said. “That’s amazing to me, when they could walk out the door and literally pull one off the tree. It doesn’t make sense.”
When Spezzano first approached farmers for donations of fresh fruits and vegetables, they balked.
“They would say, ‘Oh, kids won’t eat my vegetables,’” Spezzano recounted. “But it’s been great to watch kids try things like rainbow chard, spinach and bok choy. It turns out, they like it a lot.”
The Stanislaus County farm-to-school nutrition program contains three primary components:
Nutrition education in the classroom
Working with a six-member team of nutrition educators, Spezzano created a unique classroom education series that focuses on crops grown in the county and uses a newsletter to convey information about the local farmers who grow them. Fresh produce and newsletters are delivered each month to classrooms, and children taste the produce with their teachers, learn fun trivia and nutrition facts, and then read about farmers, some who hail from families that have been part of the community for generations.
For example in March, Ratto Bothers Farms donated rainbow chard. For most of the students, it was the first time they tried chard. They were amazed by the vibrant colors and in letters to Ratto Bros asked how they got the colors into the leaves. The kids are now calling rainbow chard “vegetable candy," Spezzano said.
All the details, puzzles, recipes and advice are compiled in “Dirt Fresh News,” a newsletter with a name no youngster can resist. The newsletters go home with the children to inform their parents about their exposure to new produce.
“When you go to the grocery store, ask your mom, dad, grandpa, etc. to buy rainbow chard so you can have your family try it at home,” the newsletter advises. “Make a chard zombie smoothie.” (Find the recipe in the Dirt Fresh News rainbow chard issue.)
Ratto Brothers has been donating to the program since 2008. According to Dirt Fresh News, Ratto Brothers is part of a Stanislaus County family who've been in the area since 1905. The family farms more than 1,000 acres near Modesto. The company’s success through the generations has been due to the enormous pride the family takes in the quality of the herbs, fruit and vegetables that are delivered to their customers, Spezzano said.
Spezzano doesn’t shy away from introducing children to unusual vegetables. One edition of Dirt Fresh News features daikon radishes, large root vegetables with a spicy bite. The word daikon comes from the Japanese words dai (large) and kon (root). The vegetable, which looks something like a giant white carrot, can be peeled and sliced into thin chips, then eaten with dip or tossed into salad.
Spezzano said her children go to local schools and she’s part of the community. Shopping at a grocery store recently, a mother approached with a daikon.
“She asked, ‘This is what you fed my child, right? She really liked it.’” Spezzano said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Getting fresh fruit and vegetables into school meals
Turlock Unified School District was already making some progress in getting fresh local fruits and vegetables on school lunch and breakfast menus. Director of Child Nutrition at Turlock Unified School District, Scott Soiseth, was contracting with some farmers and trying to purchase produce at farmers markets. However, the price and logistics became obstacles. Spezzano was part of a group assembled to facilitate the process.
“Nutrition directors are responsible for as many as 50 schools,” Spezzano said. “They can’t be getting bills from a litany of small farmers and having an army of farmers’ trucks backing up to their cafeterias.”
This problem was solved by forging a key partnership with Internet start-up AgLink.com. Created by a farming family, the company facilitates direct sales of fresh fruits and vegetables from numerous small- and mid-sized farms via their e-commerce website. The schools gets real-time information about fresh fruits and vegetables in season and AgLink provides the produce all consolidated onto one bill. Soiseth said he is thrilled with the variety and quality of produce he is getting from local farmers through AgLink.com.
Special “farmers market” tasting after school
Another link in the nutrition education chain takes place after school. The UC Cooperative Extension nutrition program teamed up with the Turlock Unified School District Child Nutrition Education Program and AgLink.com to provide a farmers market experience for the children. After a brief and entertaining presentation by a UCCE nutrition educator, the children line up and fill brown paper bags with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
During a recent farmers market program at Cunningham Elementary School in Turlock, children selected veggie packets that contained sliced and ready to eat green, yellow and red bell peppers, jicama, zucchini and other vegetables. Whole, but small-sized apples, peaches, nectarines, oranges and Asian pears were available for the taking.
“It’s a way to get kids excited about the produce they’re getting at school,” said Marc Sanchez, UCCE nutrition educator in Stanislaus and Merced counties.
No child is forced to eat fruits and vegetables, but they are encouraged to join the “two-bite club,” Sanchez said.
“The two-bite club is for those daring foodies that see something they are a little reluctant to try, but they take two bites. The first bite, they may not like it. Maybe the second bite will be something they like,” Sanchez said. “Regardless of their reaction to it, whether they like it or not, being brave enough to explore the culinary world by trying two bites forever gets them in the two-bite club.”
See more about the after school farmers market in the video below: