Program aims to teach good nutrition

Program aims to teach good nutrition

CHAMPAIGN — A sweet potato or a bagful of fries? Sugary cereal or an egg?

Good health involves making good food choices, but not everyone really knows how.

"The message they got was from fast food corporations: Healthy food is expensive. Come eat here, we have a dollar menu," says Julie Munoz-Najar, a nutrition educator with the University of Illinois Extension.

Munoz-Najar is the program director of a newly-launched nutrition education program in Champaign and Vermilion counties intended to teach lower-income families how to shop, cook and eat for better health.

There are also eight staff members for the two counties, and they'll deliver a series of eight free classes to church groups, health clinics, park districts, human service programs and virtually any organization serving adults who are income-eligible and taking care of children, Munoz-Najar said.

"We hope they'll be making better family choices for children and themselves," she said.

Participants will learn how to make better food choices, such as choosing more fruits and vegetables to fight diseases, select fiber-filled foods to help fight some forms of cancer and stay full longer and pay attention to fat, sugar and sodium in their diets, she said. They'll learn how to shop and save on their food budgets, do some cooking in classes and get recipes to take home.

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was started in 1969 and is in all 50 states. It enrolls about 500,000 people a year, according to the USDA.

The local program is being offered under the Illinois Nutrition Education Program through the University of Illinois College of College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Munoz-Najar said.

The program changes behavior, according to USDA studies. For example, 94 percent of adults taking the program eat more fruits and vegetables, 59 percent of youths eat a variety of foods, and 56 percent of youths have a better ability to select more low-cost nutritious foods.

"People who have been through this program do actually make changes," Munoz-Najar said.

This fall, the local Expanded Food and Nutrition Program will also offer free nutrition education to school children in Champaign and Vermilion counties upon the request, she said.

One program will bring educators to after-school programs offering nutrition education and physical activity to get kids moving and eating healthier on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

Another brings program educators to third-through-fifth grade classrooms monthly throughout the school year, incorporating plush puppets to help deliver health and nutrition information.

For information about signing up for these programs for adults and children, contact Munoz-Najar at 353-0740.