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Eating Well at Home with Elena

| Iowa

Feb 23, 2022

Quality nutrition and active living support chronic disease prevention, stress management and wellbeing. Iowans with low income may experience unique challenges to eating well and staying active. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020) recommend 1.5-2 cups of fruit per day and 2-3 cups of vegetables (approximately 5 servings/day). 

According to the United Health Foundation Health Rankings (2019), 7.1% of Iowans consume five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Iowans in the lowest income category consume even less. Only 6.1% of Iowans earning less than $25,000 per year are eating the recommended number of servings. Iowa SNAP-Ed addresses these challenges through a combination of direct opportunities to learn about eating well on a budget and community support which make healthy choices easier. 

Elena is one person who joined a direct opportunity through SNAP-Ed. Elena is a mom of 4 boys and she had some health concerns in her family, so she jumped at the opportunity to learn about healthy eating on a budget. She was concerned about the amounts of fat, sugar and salt her family was consuming. She wanted to learn healthier alternatives for how to cook for her family rather than how she grew up. 

Eating Well Meals: peach dish, a vegetable and pasta dish, two additional chicken rice and vegetable dish

Grisel Chavez provides SNAP-Ed nutrition education classes throughout her community. She engages adults in opportunities to gain nutrition knowledge and build skills that help to save grocery money. She taught sessions on meal planning, shopping from a list, and storing food safely. At first, Elena asked a lot of questions about how to improve her family’s diet. Learning to read a food label was particularly eye-opening for Elena. Early on, she understood the calories listed on the label to be the number of calories in the package, rather than in an individual serving. Grisel helped Elena learn to use the food label as a helpful tool when choosing between foods and combining foods into a meal. 

a SNAP-Ed educator virtual teaching over a tablet

After learning how to read food labels, Elena went grocery shopping and was able to choose healthier foods for her family. Also, during each SNAP-Ed lesson, she cooked a healthy meal or snack. She started adding a fruit and a vegetable in each meal. Elena also tried adding whole grains and plant-based proteins. Another skill she learned was planning her meals and snacks for the week. This allowed her to check that she had included fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy in meals and snacks. Elena loves trying new recipes from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website since it’s able to translate to Spanish. Once in a while, she shares these recipes on her social media so her friends and family can see them! It is wonderful to see how Elena established new habits and continues to use what she learned from SNAP-Ed. 

Results—Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach SNAP-Ed collects pre– and post-questionnaires from all direct education participants. These questionnaires identify behavior changes related to the following SNAP-Ed outcome indicators: MT1 (Healthy Eating), MT2 (Food Resource Management), MT3 (Physical Activity and Reduced Sedentary Behavior), and MT4 (Food Safety). 
Federal Fiscal Year 2021 questionnaire findings indicate 

  • 84% of SNAP-Ed participants improved their healthy eating behaviors
  • 78% improved their food resource management behaviors
  • 31% improved their physical activity behaviors
  • 70% improved their food safety behaviors. 

Iowa’s wonderful educators like Grisel will continue this work in the coming year and expand service to new locations. 

Please contact Christine Hradek, MPH, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Coordinator, SNAP-Ed and EFNEP Programs