By Brenda Marty Jimenez, Family and Consumer Services, Agent III and Angelika Schlanger, Broward FNP, Public Health Specialist
Did you know that there are nearly 260,000 Broward County residents who receive food stamps through the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)? The mission of the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program (FNP) in Broward County is to teach the county’s SNAP-eligible population about good nutrition, eating healthy on a budget, and the importance of physical activity. FNP does this by providing free, fun, and evidenced-based nutrition education classes to low-income individuals of all ages. Many of our classes include food demonstrations, tastings, and exciting activities for children.
To enhance the adoption of nutritional concepts, FNP began conducting cooking lessons in 2015 using the curriculum: Cooking Matters in Your Community. Through hands-on demonstrations and taste-testing, this comprehensive curriculum teaches participants how to shop strategically and prepare healthy snacks and meals for themselves. Cooking sessions focus on a variety of topics, such as incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy into one’s diet; identifying healthy snack choices; and limiting sugar intake. All participants leave with a nutritious and tasty recipe that they can prepare at home. (FNP educators are SafeStaff-certified to ensure food safety practices are adhered to during food tastings and cooking demonstrations.)
In addition to nutrition education, Broward FNP promotes public health approaches that increase access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. To implement community-wide initiatives, FNP collaborates with numerous organizations and government agencies. One of our most fruitful partnerships has been with the Broward County School District. This collaboration has enabled FNP’s innovative programming to reach thousands of students in the district’s Title I schools since 2008. Here are some examples of FNP’s impact within Broward County schools:
- Each school year, FNP Program Assistants teach a series of fun and interactive nutrition lessons to elementary students. Developed by nutrition experts at the University of Florida, the YUM (Youth Understanding MyPlate) curriculum focuses on the MyPlate food groups and encourages school-aged children to make healthful food choices and become more physically active.
- The agent, FNP Food Systems Specialist, and FNP Public Health Specialist work collaboratively to educate Broward County School Board cafeteria managers on Smarter Lunchrooms Strategies to increase selections and consumption of healthy food; improve school lunch participation; educate youth; and reduce food waste. In addition to training food service staff on how to implement Smarter Lunchroom techniques, the FNP team provides specific tools and resources—including a list of creative food names and food design techniques—that can make fruits and vegetables more enticing to students.
- Whenever possible, FNP supports farm-to-school initiatives that bring fresh and local produce to students. In the past, Broward County Schools Food and Nutrition Services has procured locally grown, fresh corn and, most, recently 40,000 pounds of Plant City, FL strawberries to serve during lunch. FNP Public Health Specialist developed “PICK ME!” messaging that was displayed (and encouraged) on the days the strawberries appeared in the school cafeterias. When Broward FNP, YUM lessons, farm-to-plate agricultural efforts, the school district, and student food selection all converge, it is a win for everyone.
- In schools where FNP is teaching, the Food Systems Specialist works with teachers to establish and/or support existing edible food gardens that will be used to educate students about gardening and nutrition. Upon learning nutritional education, tasting new foods and participating in cooking lessons, gardening allows participants to be fully engaged in their eating habits. Gardening provides an opportunity to connect with food and take ownership of what is grown, prepared, and eaten.
- The Agent, FNP Public Health Specialist, and FNP Food Systems Specialist work as a team to promote wellness practices in schools. A collaborative effort between the School District, FNP, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has included certifying district schools as part of the Healthier US Schools Challenge.
- The FNP Public Health Specialist successfully advocated for revisions to the Broward County Schools District Wellness Policy that promote physical activity; Smarter Lunchrooms strategies; farm-to-school efforts; healthy fundraisers, celebrations, and rewards; and enhanced nutrition education and promotion in the schools. On October 3, 2017, the Broward County School Board unanimously voted in these other changes– nearly 20 in total—to support healthier school environments.
The Broward agent and FNP’s collaborations with community-based organizations and government agencies are a powerful vehicle for bringing about behavioral changes that improve the health of the community and its citizens. Broward FNP’s partnership with Broward County Public Schools has proven to be one of its most sustainable, fruitful, and successful partnerships to date.