Fresh Produce + Knowledge = Healthy Eating
- Preventing obesity with nutrition education, healthy eating and physical activity
- Each week between 200-300 people receive nutrition information, easy-to-make healthy recipes and kitchen aids during HelpYourself! food box distributions
- Targets people that are at higher risk for both hunger and obesity – two of the most costly health issues facing our country
Brussel sprouts. Chard. Eggplant. Kale.
In season, these fresh locally grown vegetables are in abundance at farmers markets and community food banks.
Yet some people have never seen these veggies before and have no idea what to do with them. That beautiful purple eggplant is pure mystery – and ends up in the garbage.
It’s time to meet your vegetables.
The United Food Bank’s Help Yourself! program in Mesa provides a bountiful basket of seasonal produce and other foods at very low cost for seniors, adults and children. Now the University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Science, Cooperative Extension, SNAP-Ed staff helps these clients learn about the food they’re taking home.
Each week between 200-300 people stop at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education (SNAP-Ed) table before they check out of the food warehouse. They talk food with UA Cooperative Extension Health Educators who give them nutrition information about what’s in their basket, food safety and storage tips, easy-to-prepare recipes, plus handy kitchen items like plastic steamers for the microwave.
“This just opens their eyes to the different ways that food can be prepared. People come back and comment that the food tastes so much better,” said Sagé Randall, director of programs and partner network at this food bank in Mesa.
“The older kids in some of my households are now steaming broccoli and carrots after school and munching on that. They like the way it tastes. They’re mixing different vegetables and fruits as a snack – which I love!”
Nationwide, the SNAP-Ed program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture helps people receiving supplemental nutrition assistance make healthy choices on a limited budget. Dotty Spears is senior program coordinator at the UA Maricopa County Cooperative Extension and oversees the ongoing SNAP-ED partnership with Help Yourself!
In some weeks, the United Food Bank will receive huge amounts of certain vegetables and fruits. If people don’t know how to prepare or cook these, they will throw them away. The Arizona Nutrition Network and the University of Arizona have developed fact sheets with recipes and ideas for specific vegetable and fruits. “For example, use cabbage instead of lettuce on tacos. If you give them ideas, they will usually try it and like it.” No more throwing away good fruits and vegetables.
These conversations are quick – maybe two to five minutes. Yet they have a lasting impact. "Now adults and kids come up to the SNAP-ED table to share their own food discoveries and recipes" said Traci Armstrong Florian who directs this program in Maricopa County for Cooperative Extension.
“We’re spreading the word about the importance of healthy eating, exercise and nutrition. We’re reaching a wide variety of households with this message – and it’s being heard,” Randall said.