Nutrition

Extension Internship Leads to Career Path

group photo
Heather Peracchio, Juliana Restrepo-Marin, Cheng Li – a Ph.D. student from Rutgers, and Julia Cobuzzi at a nutrition outreach event.

When Julia Cobuzzi of Monroe transferred to UConn from Stonehill College in Massachusetts at the beginning of her sophomore year, she was not sure what she could do with a major in Allied Health Sciences.

“I took Introduction to Nutrition with Stacey Mobley, and it has been my favorite course by far in my college experience,” Julia says thoughtfully. Then, she met Paul Gagnon at the Center for Career Development, and he encouraged her to apply for an Extension internship. Julia spent the summer of 2016 working with Heather Peracchio in the UConn Extension office in Bethel. Heather is an Extension Educator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) program.

The community nutrition education intern teaches small and large groups, works with adults and children, conducts cooking demonstrations, and assists in developing materials for programs. During her first year interning, Julia had only taken one nutrition class and did not have much experience teaching. Working with Heather, she developed her skills, and a greater understanding of nutrition.

“I taught a 4-H program to 2nd-6th graders at a summer school at Shelter Rock Elementary School in Danbury. I also taught the same program to 1st-4th graders at a summer 4-H program in Bridgeport, that also included a gardening component. Over the weeks the kids came in, and were making better food choices at home, and eating the rainbow. I knew they were understanding what I was telling them,” Julia recalls. “I was sad at the end of the first summer. I learned so much from Heather, taught a lot of classes for youth, and it was a lot of fun to see that I could make a difference.” She switched her major to nutritional sciences, and then re-applied for the internship. Julia was selected to serve as the Community Nutrition Programming Intern in Bethel for the summer of 2017.

“The EFNEP program works in the community to help income-challenged parents learn how to shop for and make nutritious meals and snacks, all for better health and quality of life,” Heather says. “Julia assisted with preparing and implementing a 10-week gardening and nutrition program with parents and children in Norwalk, and a four week 4-H summer afterschool program with teens in Bridgeport, and farmers’ market nutrition education with the general public in Danbury.”

During her second summer of interning, Julia led a grocery store tour at ShopRite and talked to participants about budgeting, and purchasing food in season. The group of 16 moms was split into three groups, one led by Julia, one by the ShopRite dietitian, and one led by Heather. At the end of the program, each participant was given a $10 gift card from the grocery store, and they were challenged to purchase one meal that has all five food groups with the $10. Participants were competing amongst each other to see whom could create the healthiest meal for the least amount of money.

“How a community processes nutrition information is something you could not learn in a classroom – you have to see it in person to understand it,” Julia adds.

From a personal perspective, Julia enhanced her proficiencies in teaching in terms of figuring out how to write a lesson plan, and creatively teach to keep the audience engaged. She improved her public speaking skills, and ability to teach large groups of people. Julia also led classes at the Danbury Farmers’ Market, where she taught adults.

Julia began her senior year this fall, and is graduating in 2018. “My goal is to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. The internship helped me immensely in figuring out what I want to do.”

Article By Stacey Stearns

Super Tracker App

tomato-wheel

Did you know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an app to help you track your food, fitness, and health? Download SuperTracker. With it you receive a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan, can track your food and physical activity; and receive tips and support to help you make healthier choices and plan ahead.

Have Fun, Grow Healthy, Get Fit

4-H FANs group lessonConnecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion (CT FANs IM) is a 4-H STEM after-school and summer program and integrated research project, educating third and fourth graders in nutrition, fitness and gardening. The program is presented in collaboration with area 4-H clubs.

CT FANs IM is supported by a five-year $2.5 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and is an offshoot of the original 4-H FANS program, which also focused on fitness and nutrition for school-aged children and their families.

“We’re bridging community connections with Extension, by serving youth and families in under-served areas,” says Umekia Taylor, associate educator and project director. “With the startling statistics on obesity in our country, I find it exciting to promote healthy lifestyles by combining nutrition and fitness in programs that engage our youth.”

Online Course Catalog of Extension Programs

course catalog imageThere are more than one hundred UConn Extension specialists working throughout Connecticut. These educators are teaching and training in local communities, sharing their experience and knowledge with residents through a variety of programs. These instructional activities now will be easily accessible with the creation of an online extension course catalog.

Extension classes address a wide range of topics, including issues related to agriculture and food systems, the green industry, families and community development, land use and water, nutrition and wellness as well as numerous 4-H and youth activities. The website uses these groupings and an A to Z index so finding offerings is simple and straightforward. Each program links to a page with information on the objectives, goals, components, intended audience, the time of year and how often programs run and a link to the program’s website, that provides additional information.

As part of a nationwide network through the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment.

View the course catalog online at http://s.uconn.edu/courses.

Celebrate Dairy in March with Put Local on Your Tray

dairy smoothieDuring the month of March, the Put Local On Your Tray program is partnering with school districts across the state to feature local dairy. Put Local On Your Tray helps Connecticut school districts serve and celebrate locally grown products. Through a combination of technical assistance and promotional materials, the program works with schools to build a culture of health in the cafeteria, celebrate school nutrition programs, and support local agriculture.

Why local dairy? “Dairy is produced year round in Connecticut,” shares Dana Stevens, Program Coordinator for Put Local On Your Tray. “Dairy farming is an important part of our agricultural landscape, and the majority of Connecticut schools already purchase dairy that is regionally produced in the form of milk. Milk arrives at the school just 48 hours after leaving the farm. Food service directors, students, administrators, and parents should feel good about the fact that schools are supporting our hard working New England dairy farmers and providing nutritious meals for our kids”.

“Milk is the number one food source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of American’s children—including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium—that are required for proper bone growth,” says Amanda Aldred, Program Manager for New England Dairy & Food Council for School Nutrition in Connecticut. “The benefits go beyond building stronger bones. For instance, low-fat and fat-free dairy foods improve overall diet quality and help reduce the risk of various chronic diseases like heart disease.”

There are over 35 districts that participate in the Put Local on Your Tray program (you can see a map on the website here). The program is open to any interested school district, charter school, or private school.

This month, more than 15 districts are planning to host a Local Tray Day featuring dairy. Events include: Celebrating National School Breakfast week with a parent breakfast and smoothie sampling in Meriden; Taste-testing green spinach smoothies for St. Patrick’s day in Windham and Waterbury; Making mozzarella cheese in Groton; Hosting a dairy farmer visit in Wethersfield; Local yogurt parfait tastings in New Haven, and more! All districts organizing dairy events are eligible to win a dairy farm field trip organized by NEDFC for up to 25 students.

UConn Extension’s Put Local on Your Tray program has posters, stickers, newsletters, and recipes to support school districts connect students to dairy during the month of March and other local foods throughout the year. Contact your school administrator or food service director to encourage participation in the program. For more information please visit http://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu or call 860-870-6932. Put Local On Your Tray is a project of UConn Extension, in partnership with the CT State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC).

 

About New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC)

New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC) is a non-profit nutrition education organization staffed by registered dietitians. NEDFC is a state and regional affiliate of the National Dairy Council® (NDC). Our goal is to ensure that health professionals, scientists, media and educators have a credible body of nutrition information upon which to base health recommendations.

Summer 2017 Internships

Tom Martella
Tom Martella. Photo: Juliana Barrett.

UConn Extension is pleased to offer internships for UConn undergraduate students again this year. Student interns gain valuable in-the-field experience in your chosen discipline at an in-state Extension office location. Internship opportunities include:
• Food    • Nutrition    • Health    • Sustainability   • Research
• Agribusiness   • Youth Education    • Community Development

For more information visit: http://s.uconn.edu/interns

Import a Little Flavor in the Winter Months

By:     Diane Wright Hirsch

            Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

pomegranate
Photo: Texas A&M University

OK, I admit it…. I just cannot eat totally “local” and “seasonal” during the winter. It’s just too hard at this time of year. And, also, so many cold weather menus and winter celebrations revolve around aromas, flavors and sensations that come from foods that do not grow in New England.

While you can still find locally grown root vegetables, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and apples, nary a Clementine or pomegranate, (they are seasonal, after all) is produced in Connecticut. Sure, I love hot locally produced apple cider and winter squash soup, but often I am reaching for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to give seasonal flavor. A little bit of the imported stuff sure adds to the enjoyment of a seasonal diet when variety of locally produced foods is limited. So bring on just a taste of the far away and console yourself with the knowledge that some of these foods are seasonal—somewhere. Also, the transportation of the spices of life can’t possibly put too much of a strain on our oil reserves.

Some of my favorite winter imports

Clementines: December just wouldn’t be December without a box of Clementines on my counter. We go through boxes and boxes in just a few months. An easy-to-peel citrus fruit devoid of seeds (usually) and sweet and juicy…who could ask for anything more? Clementines are a fruit of the mandarin family, whose origins could have been in China or Algeria, depending on who you ask. Much of the fruit comes to the United States from Morocco and Spain. While Europeans have been blessed for years with the availability of this orange gem, the market in this country was created when there was a failed Florida citrus crop in the late 1990s. California Clementines are also available.

Cinnamon: The intense flavors of spices come from seeds that are dried and ground (the leaves of aromatic plants are referred to as “herbs”). Cinnamon has a long and interesting history. It was once so precious that wars were fought over it! Originally grown in Ceylon, a colony at various times of the Dutch, French and English, by the 1890s, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java were among the countries that cultivated cinnamon. Today it is also grown in South America and Caribbean countries. This spice is derived from the bark of a bush in the laurel family. You may use the ground form or the cinnamon “stick”, a curled up piece of the bark, also called a “quill.”

Pomegranates: The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated throughout Mediterranean region since ancient times. Today, it is grown throughout India and the drier parts of southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Spanish settlers introduced the tree into California in 1769. In this country it is grown for its fruits mainly in the drier parts of California and Arizona. While produced most commonly for its juice or fruits that can be eaten out of hand, all parts of the tree have been used as sources of tannin for curing leather. The rind and flowers yield dyes for textiles. Today, pomegranates are sometimes included in lists of super foods. This is because they are full of anti-oxidants, which may be of benefit in staving off cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

Nutmeg: I chose to feature nutmeg, because after all, we are the Nutmeg State! This could have been because trading ships brought nutmeg to our shores or, perhaps more interestingly, because peddlers used to try to pass off wood carved into nutmeg look-alikes to unsuspecting Connecticut settlers. Nutmegs come from an evergreen tree that is indigenous to southeast Asia. The nutmeg is the egg-shaped seed of the tree that is dried and sold whole for grating or as a ground spice. The cuisines of many countries, including India, the Middle East, Europe and Japan all enjoy a touch of this sweet spice. Our Connecticut holiday tables are likely to be graced with mulled cider, pumpkin pie and eggnog redolent with nutmeg. Today, nutmeg is produced primarily in Indonesia and Grenada.

Try a little nutmeg on your locally grown brussels sprouts. Of course, you will need to sprinkle some on the eggnog you make from Connecticut eggs and milk. Cinnamon in your cranberry sauce….a Clementine for an afternoon pick-me-up…..and a sprinkling of pomegranate berries on the salad made with farmer’s market spinach can add color, flavor and even some valuable vitamins to a New England winter meal.

Cilantro: Well, this herb is not commonly associated with winter, but as we are often cooking up chili or black bean soup during the colder months, I often head to the produce aisle for a bunch of cilantro. Cilantro is generally imported from Central America year around, but sometimes can be bought locally grown in the summer. And, of course, freezing the summer crop would be a good alternative to buying imported cilantro in winter. Unfortunately, cilantro (or coriander as it is sometimes called) has also been associated with more than its share of foodborne illness outbreaks. So, be sure to wash well before using, in cold running water. And if you have a compromised immune system, you might want to forego the cilantro altogether.

For more information, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

EFNEP: Making an Impact

EFNEP

The nutrition programming through EFNEP has three components: healthy food and physical activity choices, making funds go farther, and learning skills to improve food preparation and food safety practices. Clients participate in four to eight lessons, meet with the educator at least four times, complete pre and post assessments, participate in food and nutrition activities, and practice their learned skills. Recipes are available in English and Spanish. During the program, participants taste new foods, acquire cooking skills, and learn about food safety and storage. As part of healthy choices, clients learn about preparing healthy foods and nutritious snacks for various stages of the life cycle. Making funds go farther in the grocery store is a skill anyone can use. Extension educators help clients plan meals, make grocery lists, read labels, and shop wisely. UConn Extension educators toured the Danbury Price Rite with moms from Grassroots Academy, and taught them about saving money at the store while feeding their families healthier foods. EFNEP has always included an evaluation component that measures food behaviors and dietary quality. Evaluations show the vast majority of EFNEP participants have made at least one improvement in their food choices. There is also an increase in the number of participants eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables after an EFNEP program.

Welcome Lindsey Brush to CT FANs IM!

Lindsey Brush

Lindsey is the new Program Assistant for the Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion. Lindsey is a recent graduate of the University of St. Joseph’s in West Hartford with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. Lindsey is also pursuing a certification as a personal trainer from National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has worked with community outreach including SNAP-ED, Boys and Girls Clubs, and telephonic health coaching. Lindsey brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our team.

Pumpkins are a Terrible Thing to Waste…

By:     Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

            UConn Extension Educator/Food

 

Sakata Seed America
Photo: Jude Boucher

Pumpkins are thought to have originated in North America. Early colonists learned of pumpkins from Native American Indians for whom pumpkin was a dietary staple. They would often cut strips of pumpkin and roast them on an open fire before eating. These resourceful people also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Seeds were saved for future crops. Nothing was wasted. Colonists adopted the pumpkin and used it to make stews, soups and desserts. Some say that pumpkin pie originated as colonists sliced off the top of the pumpkin, removed the seeds, filled it with milk and spices and roasted it in a fire. Yum. You too can learn to make the most of this member of the winter squash family. If you grow pumpkins in your garden, you are one step ahead. If not, pick up several at you local farm stand: but, why not try getting some seeds and growing your own crop next year?

Despite a dry summer, there does not seem to be a pumpkin shortage this year. In fact, the Connecticut supply looks great—all sizes, shapes and many new varieties can be found in your local farm stand.

So, this is a good year to make sure you get the most from your pumpkin—home grown or locally purchased.

Halloween leftovers

Over the years a variety of vegetables—turnips, gourds– and finally, pumpkins have been carved as “Jack-o-Lanterns.” Large pumpkins are best for carving. They are easy to carve, they don’t make the best eating, and they have many large seeds for roasting. Once Halloween is over, if your pumpkin has been carved, it is best used in the compost pile or made available to the neighborhood squirrels. Because pumpkin is a low acid vegetable, it very easily supports the growth of bacteria at room temperature or outside on a warm fall day. Even though you then cook the pumpkin, there is a risk for food-borne illness.

If not carved, you can still clean it out and use the seeds for roasting, even if the pumpkin is too large to make for good eating.

Roast the seeds

When cutting open a pumpkin, be sure to save every seed you can salvage. Put them into a large colander. The shells are edible—adding all kinds of healthy fiber to you diet. (Actually, any seeds from winter squash-acorn or butternut-can be roasted as well.)

To roast the seeds, simply clean them off, dry with paper towels, spray or stir in a little vegetable or olive oil, salt lightly and roast on a cookie sheet lined with foil for about 45 minutes (or until golden brown) at 250°F. You can also try using soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder or other seasonings you like.

Finally, eat the pumpkin

Use smaller pumpkins for meal making. These pumpkins are sweeter with finer flesh. Though often called “pie pumpkins,” pumpkins are too good to reserve for a piece of pie at the end of Thanksgiving dinner. They make great ingredients in savory soups, stews, pumpkin ravioli and gnocchi, risotto, quick breads, pancakes, or try pumpkin stuffed with rice, sausage and dried fruit.

If this talk of pumpkins for dinner is tempting you to grow your own in the spring, add it to your list when planning out our garden and ordering seeds. Pumpkin is a warm-season vegetable that grows well in Connecticut. Keep in mind that pumpkin is a very tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost.

Do not plant until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Plant pumpkins for Halloween late in May or early in June. If pumpkins are planted too early, they may soften and rot before Halloween. For more information on growing pumpkins in the home garden, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 as you prepare for your spring planting.