by Pat Stumme,
University of Minnesota Extension Service
Nutrition Education Programs (NEP) teaches people how to put healthy, safe food on the table--within their budgets.
The program delivers research-based curricula through individuals hired from the community in 82 of 87 Minnesota counties. In its 16th year, this program is from the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
The teaching is customized to the needs of a diverse audience. Programs are available in 10 different languages, at multiple times and places. Training can be given to individuals or groups. The curriculum reaches across the life span from school-aged children to seniors. For example, in a teen parenting class, participants were taught how to do a menu plan. The Nutrition Education Assistant demonstrated how menu planning can save money and ensure eating well from all food groups. She then taught, step by step, how to use just $10 to plan an entire meal.
A week later, one of the teen participants wanted to make a healthy meal but only had $10. Although tempted to buy fast food, she decided to prepare a meal at home instead. She carefully looked through store advertisements for sale items, made a menu plan, and stuck to her list while shopping. She was able to successfully feed her family a healthy meal for less than ten dollars. This participant was very excited and plans to do more meal planning in the future.
Other topics include education in food safety, meal planning, food preparation, general nutrition and budgeting. Education focuses on behavior change. Participants are seen at least six times they're learning and changing their behavior as a result.
The Minnesota NEP makes efficient and effective use of University and state tax dollars. The NEP is funded through USDA combined Food Stamp Nutrition Education and other resources, then matched from state, county and local partner funds.
The Federal government leverages one dollar of support for every dollar generated in state, county and community in-kind contributions. The Minnesota NEP continues to link programming efforts to social policy changes recognizing personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.
Research completed by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service found that for every dollar invested in programs similar to NEP, $10.64 was saved in future health costs to treat diseases related to poor nutrition habits.
Program highlights indicate demand for nutrition education programs. Last year, 38,693 individual participants were enrolled in Nutrition Education Programs and were seen for a total of 195,766 educational contact sessions. Over two thirds of the contacts were youth while adults and seniors living on very limited incomes are also served.
More than 50 percent of the participants graduated from the Nutrition Education Programs. To graduate, a participant must complete at least six lessons and show a positive behavior change as a result of what they learned.