U nutrition program celebrates anniversary

Dawn Throener

Although some people don’t eat well, many do know the importance of good, nutritious meals. Yet for some, just learning how to eat healthy is an issue.
Today the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program will celebrate 30 years of educating low-income families about the importance of a healthy diet.
The University Extension Service began participating in the program one year after the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the pilot project in 1969.
Program officials will hold a reception to recognize former participants, volunteers and staff members today on the second level of Bandana Square in St. Paul.
Mary Darling, an Extension Service nutritionist and assistant professor, said the program promotes healthy meals, shopping, food safety and security.
The program consists of six to eight sessions that last for two or more hours, said Marilyn Herman, a Dakota County extension educator who began working with the program in 1972 as a college student in Beloit, Wis.
The classes, which generally have between three and 20 students and consist of discussions about meal planning, take place at churches, community rooms or the students’ apartments, Herman said.
Renette Lopez became involved with the program after attending the classes.
Although Lopez knew how to cook, she didn’t know what to cook for her young daughter, she said. Now Lopez has worked as a Ramsey County nutrition education assistant for six years.
As an educator, Lopez said she enjoys reassuring new mothers that what they are doing is the right thing.
Schools, adult basic education programs, food shelves and English as a Second Language classes invite nutritionists to teach students about healthy eating habits, Herman said.
“We’re the teachers of the USDA,” Herman said.
The program relies on using neighbors to teach others about community issues, such as nutrition.
Herman said that the nutrition program is based on a practical, hands-on 4-H model of learning.
“The idea was to expand that hands-on learning of 4-H into adult audiences,” Herman said.
In 1998 the program reached more than 7,000 people according to the program’s September newsletter.
But Herman said one out of five participants don’t finish the classes. Some of the reasons for not completing the classes include moving or not being ready for the information. Yet, Herman welcomes back anyone who didn’t complete the class.
“We’re willing to talk to anyone who will listen to us,” Lopez said.

Dawn Throener covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3216.