Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program

Cooking with EFNEP at Morris Street School

EFNEP graduation photo Since, 1969, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) has helped families in Connecticut learn about healthy eating, physical activity, cooking, and shopping on a budget. Despite being an affluent state, nearly 1 in 5 families with children in Connecticut is food insecure, or does not have adequate access to healthy food. Many urban areas in Connecticut are amongst the poorest in the country. Additionally, access to healthy food is a challenge in rural areas where transportation is a barrier. EFNEP staff work in these areas of greatest need in Connecticut, striving to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

Heather Peracchio and Juliana Restrepo-Marin from UConn Extension EFNEP in Fairfield County teamed up with Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Center to provide a series of classes on healthy eating, exercise, cooking and food safety to new mothers. The classes covered topics such asportion sizes, recommended servings for different age groups, and how to use MyPlate Daily Checklists. Access to vital emergency food resources, like food pantries and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were also discussed. Participants learned how to make smart drink and breakfast choices, how to read nutrition labels and compare nutritional facts, and how to shop smart and find the best value. The educators completed hands-on cooking demonstrations with the group, using healthy, affordable and easy-to-prepare recipes from the Cooking With EFNEP cookbook. The class also discussed how to incorporate more physical activity into the day, with a Zumba class that was led by a participant that was a certified instructor.

Upon lesson completion, participants were given the opportunity to comment on the course and what they learned. Overall, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Here’s what some participants had to say:  “I learned many things, such as: how to control sugar portions, I learned about oil, food prices and how to incorporate seasonal fruit in my recipes.”

“I loved this class very much. I learned how to eat healthier, buy better food, check the products’ labels and how to add fruit in my meals.”

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn in this nutrition course. Thanks to Viviane for organizing this class and making it possible. I would also like to thank Miss Heather and Miss Juliana for teaching us how to cook healthy meals for our daily lives. I learned a lot from you and I hope this is not the last time you teach us.”

“I would like to thank teacher Heather, Juliana, the translator and Viviane for this great effort and support to all of us with the nutrition classes. This has been very helpful. We learned how to eat healthy.”

For more information on how you can become involved in UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or to see our recipes, and other information, go to efnep.uconn.edu or find us on Facebook at UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program- EFNEP or Twitter at @UConnEFNEP!

Article by Madelyn Zanini

Growing Gardens, Growing Health in Norwalk

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

student in Norwalk with strawberry in the garden
Photo: Heather Peracchio

Growing Gardens, Growing Health connects low income parents and their children to instruction, hands-on practice, and resources for gardening, nutrition, and cooking in order to encourage healthier food choices for the whole family. Over the course of the past 6 summers, participants worked with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from EFNEP and certified master gardeners from Extension to plant and grow fresh vegetables and herbs. Over ten weeks, families received practical, family- and budget-friendly information about nutrition and built essential skills by making fun, healthy recipes. Each week children of the families learned about MyPlate and the food groups through fun and interactive games and activities with the help of EFNEP volunteers and an Extension summer intern.

Economically disadvantaged families were recruited to participate in a 10-week, hands-on, nutrition and gardening education program (n=35). Program goals were to enhance participants’ knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing and consuming produce; incorporating physical activity into everyday life; and gardening and growing produce for personal use. Childhood obesity rates are higher than national average, 39% in this city. The Growing Gardens, Growing Health program helps families work together to grow fruits and vegetables on a community farm, learn about nutrition and how to prepare healthy foods in the on-premises, fully equipped kitchen classroom, and enjoy the freshly prepared fruit/vegetable-based meals as a group seated around the table. Local health department educators partnered with University Extension educators including a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), bilingual program aide, Master Gardener (MG) volunteers and student volunteers to implement this program. Data collection included a pre-post survey (n=21), and participants demonstrated increased readiness to change physical activity behaviors (47%), cooking behaviors with vegetables/fruits (40%) and consumption of 5 servings vegetables/fruits daily (31%). A family shares, “I am so glad we committed to this. We are eating better, with more nutrition, using less of a budget.” In summary, garden-based nutrition education that is family-focused may improve physical activity, vegetable/fruit consumption and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing, and consuming produce; such improvements may decrease risk of obesity.

Nutrition & Wellness in New London County

fruit and vegetables in shopping basketErica Benvenuti, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) dietitian, provides workshops, presentations, and food demonstrations for low-income families and individuals in Southeastern Connecticut. The interactive, educational classes are designed to help people make healthy food choices on a limited budget. 

The EFNEP program’s nutrition and cooking classes teach practical, easily applicable skills, such as simple dishes to make with foods that are easy to have on hand. Participants learn life skills, smart shopping, and how to prepare easy, nutritious meals and snacks. The program serves a wide range of constituents, including middle school, high school, and college students; pregnant women and new moms; special education classes; refugees and recently arrived immigrants; and residents of transitional living facilities. Participants have the opportunity to taste the items prepared, and, in some classes, help prepare the food.

Erica also participates in New London County food policy planning and educates agency staff in order to broaden the impact of the program and regularly reach new clients. Program partners include Ledge Light health District, New London Mayor’s Fitness Initiative, Norwich Free Academy, United Way of Southeast CT, and Catholic Charities. EFNEP workshops have helped motivate and empower participants to make healthier food choices and become more physically active. 

The newly renovated gardens at River-front Childrens’ Center. 

Cooking Matters

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

EFNEPChild First Groton funded a Cooking Matters Families program open to all school age children and parents. The plan was to improve family relations and learn a skill together. UConn EFNEP worked in collaboration in the planning, marketing and executing this successful program. We were overwhelmed with responses and had to start a waiting list for further programs. The Groton Elementary School supplied a staff member who was an asset to this program in education and facilitation. During our first class we had 13 people attend: 6 parents and 7 children, ranging 4-8 years of age. The children were very involved and one boy said “This is the best day of my life,” setting the stage for the next 5 weeks of out program. The cooking facility was very small to accommodate this large group of 13 with 4-5 staff. But everyone who participated worked together to ensure safety and fun.

At the conclusion of the program the group had really grown and come together. The comments we received from the families were “The kids are helping more in the kitchen,” “We are closer as a family,” “When is the next class, we want to sign up?” ” I never thought they would eat those things.” Hearing these comments help volunteers, teachers and staff motivated to keep doing what they are doing. Watching the children eat their creations each week is a complete success in itself. ” I didn’t think I would like it but I did,” “I have never tried ground turkey before! I will use it at home.” The families were each sent home with ingredients to make the recipe again and the stories were very interesting. “We froze the ingredients so they wouldn’t go bad and made it 2 weeks later,” “We took the ingredients and some extras to make it ours.” Each week seeing the families working together as a team meant we were doing the right thing. One obstacle that occurred included fitting the class into the families’ busy schedules, with conflicts with school, work, and health issues. Working to find times that best fit everyone’s schedules helped the participants, and they felt valued by the adjustments that were made. In conclusion all the participants stated that they would attend another session, they had fun and benefited from getting to know each other better.

Improving Nutrition in New Britain

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

dairy smoothieThe New Britain Mount Pleasant Program was a collaboration between the Family Resource Center and Housing. The program collaborators were skeptical about participant attendance and follow through. On our first session only 5 people had signed up for the nutrition class, and 18 people showed up. Each week we had a great turn out with 10 graduates attending 10 hours of education. The amazing part of the class was how many students started to make changes. For example, B, was a student who immediately began eating more vegetables. He also changed his morning bacon and sausage routine to oatmeal. He stopped drinking soda. Instead he showed up to class with his own fruit infused water. He followed my mantra of only drink water or 1 glass of milk. Another student wrote a heartfelt note thanking me for the class. She said she “suffered from depression, and had a hard time leaving the house and being around people, and class gave me something to look forward to.” She also mentioned purchasing a blender to make healthy smoothies for breakfast (another one of my recipes). The students did not want the class to end, and vowed to come back as experts in the fall when we hold another class, and made comments like ” I was inspired by your first class” and There should be more classes like this.”

The program was centered on grocery shopping – each lesson had a grocery shopping component. Students reported saving money on their groceries through the use of mobile apps we learned about in class. They also reported changes in their grocery shopping habits. As mentioned above, a direct benefit was improved dietary habits as a result of the lessons. An unintended indirect benefit was the benefit of social support from a peer group, which helped one participant with her depression. The improvement in her depression made such an impact that it motivated her to make changes to improve her dietary intake and overall health.

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