More than 25 percent of youth ages 5 to 19 are overweight in Placer and Nevada counties, according to University of California CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, Placer/Nevada counties. The program is part of the University of California Cooperative Extension.
UC CalFresh is trying to lower that percentage by offering nutrition classes for adults and also teaching some Roseville, Lincoln and Sheridan public school students how to eat healthier. The organization also works with area school gardens.
It’s important to teach students, beginning in preschool, the basics of good nutrition because the children often determine what they’re eating.
“As students get older, they’re making more of the choices themselves. So many kids end up being home by themselves or packing their lunch,” said Rosemary Carter, UC CalFresh program manager for Placer-Nevada Counties. “I want them to understand what the healthy foods will do for their bodies. I want them to make the healthy choices, to make an educated choice.”
UC CalFresh offers nutrition education workshops and curriculum at William Kaseberg, Bradford Woodbridge and George Cirby elementary schools in Roseville. The organization also sponsors a six-week cooking academy series at area schools. Students learn how to cook, using recipes featuring fruits and vegetables, and then take home the recipes to share with their families.
“Almost 100 percent of teachers in the schools that participate with us sign up for a fall voluntary one-hour nutrition lesson we teach,” Carter said, “and we give curriculum to the teacher that they use throughout the year. In spring, we come back and review the material as a Jeopardy game.”
The students learn why it’s important to eat from all five food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy) and what the nutrients do for the bodies.
“We’re using MyPlate as a guide for making healthy food choices,” Carter said.
The United States Department of Agriculture substituted the MyPlate graphic for the MyPyramid graphic depicting a healthy diet in 2011.
“They learn about sometimes foods that do not have nutrients to benefit our bodies (candy, soda, French fries, foods high in fat and sugar),” Carter said.
UC CalFresh also wants to get the students’ parents involved through nutrition workshops.
“The reason why I really want to do more education with the parents is it’s just as much their responsibilities as their students. Their students’ bodies need good fuel, not Hot Cheetos and Takis,” Carter said. “They are not going to say to mom, ‘we should have fruit for a snack,’ if mom is offering them Hot Cheetos. No kid will say that. If we can educate the parents, that will help their students make better choices.”
UC CalFresh also engages the students in physical activities as part of the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child’s Health) physical activity program. Twice a month, a UC CalFresh nutrition educator leads Zumba activities with the students before school starts at Cirby and Kaseberg schools.
“I really think we’re making a difference,” Carter said. “If we can just get the parents onboard, that would go a long way to making lifelong changes.”
Parents who want more information on healthy eating classes and/or resources are encouraged to call UC CalFresh at 530-889-7350 or check the website at ceplacer.ucanr.edu.