Oregon Success Stories

Plan, Shop, Save, Cook for Homeless Youth

This article was written by Oregon State University, a SNAP-Ed Agency.

In the 2016-17 school year nearly 9 percent of the students in Coos Bay School District (CBSD) reported being homeless, including about 130 high school students. For these students, cooking healthy meals isn’t always a top priority.

two teens cook using an electric skillet

The SNAP-Ed obesity prevention and nutrition education program, offered through Oregon State University's Coos County Extension Service, partnered with the CBSD’s school-based program, ARK Project. The two organizations aimed to empower homeless youth by offering nutrition and cooking classes to these students and their families to encourage healthy eating habits. Coos County Extension provided an evidence-based curriculum on how to cook and shop on a limited budget. They launched the pilot program in May.

Plan, Shop, Save, Cook
The curriculum is called Plan, Shop, Save, Cook. It blends in Food Hero, an OSU Extension social marketing campaign that focuses on planning creative, low-cost, healthy meals that include fruits and vegetables. All recipes featured non-perishable foods and the meals were prepared in 12-inch electric skillets. The goal is for the students and their families to be able to cook meals using ingredients that come off a food pantry shelf.

a teen cooks

Allison Harris, Nutrition Program Coordinator for Coos/Curry Extension Service, taught one series for homeless/unaccompanied high school students and one series with families. Melinda Torres, CBSD Homeless Liaison/ARK Program Manager, recruited youth and families experiencing homelessness to participate in the pilot program.

Nutrition Education Reminders
“We also gave the participants a nutrition education reinforcement at the end of each class, such as a reusable grocery bag with healthy eating and food safety messages on it,” Harris said. "The reinforcements are given to help participants maintain the healthy eating behaviors that they have learned in class. Behavior-change research indicates that when others see a message to eat fruits and vegetables, it may influence their choices as well."

At the end of the series all participants received a new electric skillet provided by the Coos Bay Lions Club.

participants pose smiling with their new electric skillets

What did the students think?
One of the students said of the classes,
"I enjoyed learning about how easy it was to shop for food and cook. I’ve always viewed cooking as difficult and complicated but this class gave me the confidence to go out of my comfort zone and cook and try new things."

Another said,
“The most important thing I learned from this class is that anyone can cook and eat healthy. It’s all about the choices we make. Cooking is not that hard and shopping for the right food isn’t hard either. But learning how to take care of yourself and feed yourself the right food is important.”

Expanding the Program
Five students and three families completed the program. Organizers plan to continue and expand the classes in the 2017-18 school year thanks to the Bay Area Hospital Community Foundation.

“This class was great for youth and families that are experiencing similar situations and this program showed that they are not alone,” Torres said. “Plus, all the participants got to work with each other and build relationships. Increasing their knowledge and confidence really does make a difference and without this opportunity they might not have increased their skills.”


Logo for social marketing campaign "Food Hero" with website address: www.foodhero.org. Food Hero Social Marketing Campaign

This article was written and submitted to SNAP-Ed Connection by Lauren Tobey, MS, RD and Elaine Schrumpf, MS of Oregon State University Extension.

Food Hero is a research based Spanish and English language multi-channel social marketing campaign developed by Oregon State University Extension and designed to inconspicuously increase consumption of vegetables and fruits within the targeted audience of SNAP-eligible Oregon moms in an empowering way. All aspects of the campaign are written and designed to be learner centered and actionable. The channels are a website, community programming kits, media, and a monthly message package which includes a social media platform.

Food Hero came about through Oregon SNAP bonus funds received in 2008 through Governor Ted Kulongoski’s health initiative after he experienced how difficult it was to live off the average Food Stamp budget at the time of $3 per day. A needs assessment was conducted through focus groups, phone surveys (n=2332) with SNAP participants and an extensive literature review. The following key results, helped focus the campaign design:

  • Moms want to find information about healthy food choices online (46.7%), at grocery stores (16%) and in magazines (12%).
  • Moms currently find cooking tips/ideas on web sites (28%) and from friends and family (25%).
  • Moms felt they knew how to prepare and eat produce, yet they reported intake below recommended levels.

FoodHero.org is multilingual and features recipes, actionable tips and tools, Food Hero Monthly, and connections to Food Hero social media sites. Food Hero was built from existing materials that were repackaged and rewritten to be current with emerging research on best practices for delivering health education.

On FoodHero.org all states can print off tasty recipes and actionable tips. Recipes have nutrition facts, professional photos, are well tested and follow strict nutritional criteria. Check out our most popular recipe,Chicken, Broccoli & Cheese Skillet Meal. And be sure to follow Food Hero social media sites along with 800+ others!

Funding: Funding for Food Hero came from USDA Food and Nutrition Service SNAP-Ed plus some supplementary Oregon State University funds and Oregon SNAP funds.
Contact: Lauren.Tobey@oregonstate.edu. 541-737-1017.