Donna Anderson, a health and nutrition educator with the area Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has been with the University of Minnesota Extension program for almost 15 years, six of those serving residents of Hubbard, Wadena and Mahnomen counties. She was also part of the Living Well pilot program developed through University of Minnesota family and consumer science extension educators to offer education and resources to help families and communities achieve a healthy lifestyle.
Anderson was a familiar face in area schools before COVID, providing students with the opportunity to sample healthy foods and take the recipes home to their families.
All that changed on March 18 last year when all University of Minnesota employees were told to work remotely.
Cooking with Zoom
“We’ve been working remotely ever since and continue to do so,” Anderson said. “I’ve been doing all of our classes over Zoom from my home in Sebeka.”
She said partnerships with area agencies are what have made this transition successful.
“I’ve worked with the FATHERS Project through CHI St.Joseph’s Health, MAHUBE-OTWA, the 4-H program and other agencies,” she said.
Groceries are supplied by the organizations involved, either curbside or by delivery. “We’re in everyone’s homes on Zoom and making a meal at the same time,” she said. “People participating don’t have to worry about transportation or childcare and the participation has been awesome!”
With Zoom, children are often able to help parents with the food preparation, too.
“There are a lot of things parents don’t realize children can do in the kitchen at a young age,” she said. “At 2 years old, they can count out napkins, plates and cups. As they get older, they can use pizza cutters for cutting tortillas or bread. It’s fun when everybody in the family is cooking together.”
Anderson said teaching classes by Zoom has enhanced conversation between participants and relationship building. “We turned it into a positive,” she said.
Another advantage of Zoom classes is the ability to co-teach classes without traveling. “I can partner with someone in Moorhead or St. Cloud and we each teach part of the lesson,” she said. “That has worked really well. Participants in the classes can also be from different areas of the state.”
Making healthier choices
Nutrition education is an important component of the program, and most classes offered are at no charge to the participants.
“Older children learn about My Plate and how to put a snack or meal together,” Anderson said. “They try new foods and sometimes find out they really like them. Being on Zoom is also an awesome opportunity for families to go to their cupboard and look at the labels of drinks and snacks they buy. When they see how much sugar and fat some of these things have, they often say they won’t be buying that again.”
Anderson offers participants suggestions for healthier snacks, such as salsa made with black beans and corn, scrambled eggs with vegetables and a simple recipe for homemade applesauce.
Feedback from participants in Anderson’s classes has shown participants reported increased confidence in budgeting and meal planning as well as developing new skills to save money while eating healthy.
There are also ways to make pre-packaged foods healthier. “Take ramen,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the healthiest, but a lot of people like to eat it. If you don’t use the seasoning packet and instead add canned chicken and fresh vegetables and your own seasonings, you can make it stretch to feed more people and be healthier.”
The “One Vegetable, One Community” project has been reinstated after being absent last year due to COVID.
“We will be announcing what the vegetable for this year will be soon and distributing seeds throughout the community this spring,” she said. “Distribution is usually through the school, library and food shelf.”
How to participate
While most classes are online through Zoom, internet access is not required to take classes. For example, a phone class “Walk with Ease” involves goal setting, stretches and physical activity participants can do throughout the week.
“Most classes are done by working together with agencies, but a group of five to eight friends could sign up for a class together as well,” she said.
Contact Anderson at email@example.com or by calling 218-640-0285 for more information on upcoming classes and events.
There are a variety of classes being offered statewide as well.
For more information on resources, visit extension.umn.edu/food-health-and-nutrition.
Facebook has a link at www.facebook.com/UMNExtFD, as does as Twitter at twitter.com/UMNExtFD. Reallifegoodfood.umn.edu is a resource for recipes, cooking tips and physical activity ideas for a healthier life.