Nutrition Education Builds Skills in Iowa Families

Many Iowa families have experienced hardships due to the ongoing slump in the economy. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Family Nutrition Program (FNP) help youth and young, low-resource families with children develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behavior needed to improve their diet. Families learn to make informed choices about low-cost, nutritious foods, to better manage family finances and to become self-sufficient. The free programs have become a source of hope and security for families during these tough times.

“These programs help families who are struggling financially to gain knowledge and skills for healthier families by learning how to cook, shop and keep foods safe,” said Peggy Martin, ISU Extension state specialist for EFNEP and FNP.

EFNEP and FNP are offered in 25 counties in Iowa. The hands-on, learn-by-doing approach of the programs allows participants to gain practical skills necessary to make positive behavior changes.

They learn by participating in activities, worksheets and food demonstrations, and then they set goals. By the time we see them the following week, they will hopefully have achieved some of the goals they set.

- Star Scott, Polk County EFNEP Program Assistant

“The participants learn about how to increase fruits and vegetables in children’s diets, how to save money at the grocery store, how to read the nutrition facts labels and how to focus more on eating healthier with their families,” said Star Scott, EFNEP program assistant in Polk County. “They learn these behaviors and changes through the different lessons that we go over with them. They learn by participating in activities, worksheets and food demonstrations, and then they set goals. By the time we see them the following week, they will hopefully have achieved some of the goals they set.”

EFNEP program assistants teach families and youth individually or in small groups. The program targets both youth and low-resource adults with children under the age of 10.

"The budgeting part is where a lot of us struggle,” said EFNEP participant Jessica Johnson. “I learned a lot about making lists and menus during my session, and I’m still putting these to practice now."

The budgeting part is where a lot of us struggle. I learned a lot about making lists and menus during my session, and I’m still putting these to practice now.

-Jessica Johnson, Program Participant

EFNEP class

According to an Iowa State University study released in December 2000, for every $1 spent to deliver nutrition education in Iowa, $8.03 is saved in future health care costs. The $8.03 in health care savings reported in the 2000 survey occur because participants:

  • Learn safe food handling practices, which results in fewer food borne illnesses
  • Eat better during pregnancy, which results in fewer low birth weight babies
  • Are more likely to breastfeed newborns, which results in fewer childhood diseases
  • Improve their overall diets, which results in the delay and prevention of chronic diseases

In 2010, EFNEP and FNP reached 2,144 low-income families.

“Our nutrition education programs save money while helping families,” said Martin. “Participants can be successful in doing this and we know there are good results. Besides improvements in nutrition, these families get a lot of satisfaction out of making these changes and being able to better provide for their loved ones.”

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