UW nutrition program helps residents eat healthier and spend less
Serving families with limited resources, the University of Wyoming Extension’s Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) helps Wyomingites stretch precious dollars to obtain more nutritious food.
CNP offers nutrition education classes and community intervention to help families in every Wyoming county and the Wind River Indian Reservation. CNP classes are free to anyone who meets household monthly and yearly income guidelines, and classes help participants manage budgets and make buying nutritious foods easier, said Mindy Meuli, CNP state director.
Adults can take an eight-lesson series focused on food resource management, general nutrition and food preparation. Children in Kindergarten through first grade can participate in a lesson series called Happy, Healthy Me, third through fifth grade students participate in Grazing with Marty Moose – a five-lesson series, and the most recent curriculum, Real Kids, Real Skills, Real Meals, is for fifth through eighth graders.
Participants of all ages get a lot out of the classes, noted Meuli.
“We do an activity in the adult curriculum where we figure out how much sugar an individual consumes in a year, just by drinking things like soda or coffee,” said Kali McCrackin Goodenough, CNP marketing coordinator. “It’s a huge eye-opener for participants.”
Helping participants focus on their spending habits is one of the more challenging activities CNP does during the adult education series, but it is also one of the biggest positive changes participants see, said McCrackin Goodenough.
“People end up saving $30 to $40 a month, and they have more money for fruits or vegetables,” said McCrackin Goodenough. “This is the biggest outcome for participants – learning they can save money and eat healthy while doing it.”
Participants saved an average of $50 a month in 2019. This past year, with COVID-19, savings were not as high, but participants still saved around $14 a month, according to Meuli.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is really challenging for our participants,” said McCrackin Goodenough. “They are really at risk during the pandemic.”
One participant who took the class two years ago shared CNP classes helped her remain financially secure during the onset of the pandemic. The classes helped her stretch food dollars and make sure everyone in her family had food all month, said McCrackin Goodenough.
COVID-19 changed classes from in-person to online, but it also allowed CNP to gain new partnerships, strengthen old partnerships and increase its presence online, said Meuli. The CNP website and Facebook page were essential tools during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CNP connected with the Food Bank of the Rockies and strengthened their relationship with the Wyoming First Lady’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative. They also strengthened their partnership with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program to help provide education, according to Meuli.
“Nutrition classes are just part of what we do,” said McCrackin Goodenough. “The other part is community level interventions, which work to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”
CNP uses four focus areas to help create community-level changes to assist community members and families make the healthier choice. They utilize Marty Moose at the school setting to help schools make their classrooms and lunchrooms healthier.
In Wyoming communities, CNP educators work with local partners on projects focused on local food, like community gardens and farmers markets, food pantries and early childhood education centers.
“We work with food pantries and identify ways we can work together to make changes supporting healthier choices,” said McCrackin Goodenough. “Some of this is as simple as what’s on the shelves so healthier choices are at eye level, and some of it is a bit more complicated like rearranging the pantry to better facilitate a shopping style.”
Some bigger CNP projects included helping connect food pantries to gardens and providing refrigeration to help preserve and provide fresh produce and dairy products, said McCrackin Goodenough.
“Nutrition classes really hit an individual level of influencing healthy choices,” she said. “But, if people go to the food pantry and they can’t find whole wheat bread or low-sodium beans, it’s kind of limiting, so if we work in the environment, we can influence the availability of healthy choices.”
For more information about CNP or to get involved in classes, reach out to a local CNP Educator at a County Extension Office or call the state office at 877-219-4646 or 307-766-5375 or visit uwyocnp.org.
This article was written by Katie Shockley and is courtesy of the University of Wyoming. For more information, e-mail Shockley at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit uwagnews.com.