Posts Tagged: nutrition
Eating healthy on a limited budget is possible, but any cuts in SNAP or rise in food costs make it harder
The affordability of healthy food is often cited as a barrier to low-income families eating nutritious meals. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that with menu planning and access to stores selling items in bulk, the average daily cost for serving healthy meals to a family of four was $25 in 2010 dollars. This cost was consistent with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) low-income cost of food meal plan, but higher than the cost of the USDA Thrifty Food Plan. The Thrifty Food Plan is the meal plan used by the USDA to determine food assistance benefits.
“This study determined the likelihood that families living in low-income households could create meals that meet the USDA dietary guidelines presented in MyPlate nutrition education materials,” said lead author Karen M. Jetter, Ph.D., of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, which is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. “In addition to food cost, the other factors considered were access to stores, time for meal preparation, and whether the menus included culturally appropriate foods.”
Jetter also cautioned that any reduction in SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for people with qualifying low incomes, or increase in food costs would make it hard for economically vulnerable families to eat healthy foods.
This project was conducted in collaboration with Northern Valley Indian Health, Inc, and the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria where 88 percent of the population surveyed lived in households with an income of less than or equal to $35,000 a year. The menus were created to feed a household with a father, mother, and children ages 7 and 10 with foods the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community liked to eat, met USDA guidelines for healthy eating, and had realistic portions. Menus did not rely on processed foods to reduce the amount of fat and salt in the family diet, were varied so the family would not become bored eating the same foods, did not always require hot meal preparation, and were affordable.
By working closely with the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community researchers, two-weeks of daily menus were developed using meal plans provided by the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community. Although these plans did not meet the nutritional guidelines every day, all categories achieved the recommended levels on average at the end of a two-week period.
“These menus showed that a healthy diet on a budget was achieved by balancing daily targets over two weeks, not every day. This focuses healthy eating on balance rather than being deprived,” said Jetter.
Once the menus were determined, the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community researchers visited 13 grocery stores in Chico to ascertain menu costs. The stores visited were within a 10-minute car ride of 76 percent of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe members and were classified as bulk supermarket, general supermarket, discount market, or specialty market such as a local co-op.
Both bulk and general supermarkets had the highest availability of the items needed for a two-week shopping list, whereas specialty and discount markets lacked as many as 52 of the items needed. Bulk and discount market baskets had the lowest average daily cost of $25, while the specialty market had the highest average cost of $39 per day.
One limitation of the study was the focus on the actual cost of food without considering transactional costs such as the time needed to plan menus, develop shopping lists, research store advertisements, and travel to the bulk supermarket that offered the lowest cost. All of these factors influence a family's ability to sustain a healthy eating plan.
“This research demonstrates that menus that meet USDA guidelines can be purchased by a family of four when shopping at a bulk supermarket, but any reduction in SNAP benefits or increase in food costs would make it difficult for these economically vulnerable families to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” stressed Jetter.
This project was part of a larger project funded by a National Institutes of Health grant.
New parents returning to work after the birth of a child face a lot of questions and uncertainties, particularly around breastfeeding. Should I continue to breastfeed? Will there be a space for me to pump milk in private? What will my boss and co-workers say? How many times should I pump when I am away from my baby?
Recognizing the importance of breastfeeding to the health of both parent and child, California recently passed AB 1976 to strengthen protections for working parents that want to continue to breastfeed and need to express milk (i.e., pump) at work. Starting on Jan. 1, 2019, employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a private area to pump that is not a bathroom or face fines and penalties. Prior to 2019, some employers would designate a bathroom as their lactation room, a practice that was technically “ok” so long as the toilet was behind a stall or other barrier. Now that practice is expressly prohibited and employers will need to find another space to accommodate lactating employees.
So, what happens when an employer cannot provide a permanent, private area due to operational or financial conditions? Many new parents might find themselves in just this position. Agricultural workers or field researchers may not work in a traditional office or they may find themselves at off-site locations for a large percentage of their work day. At UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, many employees travel across multiple counties delivering community health education lessons at various sites. AB 1976 includes provisions for setting up temporary lactation locations so long as the space is private, only used for that purpose while the employee is expressing milk, and otherwise meets the requirements of state law concerning lactation (again, it cannot be a bathroom).
Lactation locations when out in the field
To be compliant with state law, avoid fines and penalties and support the health of their employees, employers may need to set-up a temporary lactation station for their workers. AB 1976 specifically states that agricultural employers are compliant if they provide a “private, enclosed, and shaded space, including, but not limited to, an air-conditioned cab of a truck or tractor.”
One solution is to assemble a mobile lactation unit that employees can check out or reserve based on their pumping schedule. Mobile lactation stations can take many forms, however, some basics that should be included in a lactation unit are listed and itemized below.
Privacy screens and supplies
To be compliant, the space needs to be private and free from intrusion. When setting up the mobile station in a vehicle, you will need to have privacy screens that fit all vehicle windows front, back and sides. There are many options on the market ranging in price from $20 on up. When ordering window shades, you will need to know the make and model of the vehicle.
- Privacy screens for front, back and side windows (4 total, $21 each) = $84
- Signage and door locks to prevent intrusion or knocking
Food safety supplies
Remember, breast milk is food. Helping your employee keep their expressed breast milk safe for their baby will result in less illness and less time off work. Some basics:
- Sanitizing surface wipes: These will be used to sanitize the space including the seat, dashboard or other surfaces that may come in contact with the lactation equipment. Large container of surface sanitizing wipes = $5
- Hand sanitizing wipes: Unless there is always a sink in close proximity, your employee will want to wash their hands before and after pumping. If their hands are very dirty they will need to have a place where they can remove all dirt and debris before using the hand sanitizing wipes. Hand sanitizing wipes = $4
- Cooler bag, ice pack and thermometer for the employee to store the expressed milk safely. The cooler size and number of ice packs needed will depend on the conditions where the milk will be stored. A small cooler with one ice pack will heat up quickly on a hot day. The thermometer will give the employee peace of mind that the milk stayed below 40 degrees and is safe for the child. Leaving/storing a cooler with expressed milk in the trunk or interior of car will increase the temperature in the cooler more quickly. Instead, find a shaded location when possible. 1 cooler bag (approx. $15) + ice packs (approx. $8) + cooler thermometer (approx. $2) = $25
- Backpack or bag: To store these items when the lactation space is being used for other purposes (e.g., driving), you will need a backpack or bag. Costs can vary, however, the bag should be large enough to fully contain all of the items and ensure that they are not contaminated by other materials that may be placed around or near the supplies. You will want it to have a zipper and an easy-to-clean material on the outside and inside (e.g., vinyl or plastic-coated fabric). Cost is variable $5 to $150 depending on your style and budget needs.
- Closed trash receptacle for all used cleaning wipes. Approx. $5
Support for breastfeeding employees is not only a company perk, it's the law. Under certain circumstances, employers can set-up these mobile lactation stations for their field-based employees for under $150. What better way to promote employee health, avoid fines and penalties and support local families?
This time of year, it can be hard to resist the pull of sweet potatoes — roasted, mashed with butter, and topped with a combination of delectable treats from maple syrup to pecans to marshmallows. But did you know that the green leaves of the sweet potato plant also have the potential to be a tasty, nutritious food?
In Ethiopia, where sweet potatoes can be a staple crop, UC Davis graduate student Lauren Howe recently helped farmers taste test the leaves and consider this familiar crop in a new culinary light.
Watch a video to learn how to prepare sweet potato leaves:
The leaves of this drought-tolerant plant offer farming households there an alternative — and nutritious — food in the lean season, while they are waiting for its starchy, tuberous roots to be ready to eat. Introducing sweet potato leaves as a food option is intended to help farmers better diversify their families' diets, to include a wider variety of vegetables in addition to staple foods, especially during the dry season.
Boots on the ground with sweet potato farmers in Ethiopia
Lauren traveled to Ethiopia this summer to work with an organization called Send A Cow Ethiopia (SACE), on a Trellis Fund project. As part of the Horticulture Innovation Lab, each Trellis Fund project connects an organization in a developing country with a grad student from a U.S. university, to work together to benefit local farmers, while building the capacity of both the local organization and the student.
In Ethiopia, SACE helped Lauren better understand local contexts by connecting her with farming households to interview about their current farming practices and the role of sweet potatoes in their diets.
Later they traveled to meet with a group of about 25 farmers in the Ukara community to harvest leaves, cook together and discuss their perceptions of the leaves as a vegetable option.
Reflecting on taste tests, new foods, and rural communities
Lauren's own passion for food and witnessing how food can help build community is an important part of her reflection on this experience:
"This project is about creating tasty dishes to persuade people about the nutritional benefits of a new ingredient. It is gathering families, friends and neighbors to sit down to a communal meal (already a strong Ethiopian practice), breaking bread together, sharing stories, experiences and hopes for the future."
Background and related international agricultural research
Lauren's experience with a Trellis Fund project in Ethiopia was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, a research program led by Elizabeth Mitcham of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. With a focus on fruit and vegetable innovation, the Horticulture Innovation Lab seeks to empower smallholder farmers in developing countries to earn more income and better nourish their communities — as part of the U.S. government's global Feed the Future initiative.
Past research from the Horticulture Innovation Lab has focused on other leafy greens, specifically African indigenous vegetables, and also on sweet potatoes themselves (orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, that is). Though the program has not done in-depth research on sweet potato leaves for human consumption beyond this small Trellis Fund project, you can find more information about eating sweet potato leaves and tips in this bulletin from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, and a wealth of information about sweet potato farming and gardening from the University of California Vegetable Research and Information Center.
Related Food Blog posts:
- New reason to give thanks for sweet potatoes
How orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are making a difference in some African countries
- More African indigenous vegetables on more plates
A brief look at some leafy greens popular in Eastern Africa
- Connecting with farmers over pineapple postharvest practices
Another Trellis student experience with a video
- ‘Local' farm inspiration from half a world away
A UC Cooperative Extension specialist reflects on his time as a Trellis student
Sweet potato leaves in Ethiopia - Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Lauren Howe/UC Davis
When school's out, many children who live in poverty no longer eat nutritious meals like they do during school as part of the free and reduced-cost school lunch program.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Sacramento County has joined a coalition to promote the summer meals program, which is aiming to serve one million meals during summer 2018.
The coalition was formed by State Sen. Richard Pan, who invited Sacramento students to the State Capitol for a picnic May 22 launching the “Million Meals Summer.”
“In Sacramento County, on average 1.9 million free or reduced-price lunches are served each month while school is in session,” said Sen. Pan. “For so many of these children, school meals are their primary source of nutrition.”
In the summertime, the number of lunches served drops to less than 10 percent of the school-year number.
“Over the last couple of years, my office has worked with a growing number of organizations to help close the gap of child nutrition,” Sen. Pan said.
At the picnic, Sen. Pan, a pediatrician, reminded the children that eating healthy through the summer will get them ready to learn when school starts again.
Sen. Pan said Kim Frinzel, associate director of the California Department of Education nutrition services division, is leading the effort to set up sufficient meal sites and encourage children to attend.
“You get a great meal,” Frinzel told the students. “You get to hang out with your friends. And you get to participate in fun activities. Clap if you will help us serve a million meals.”
Vanessa Kenyon, EFNEP program supervisor for Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, said EFNEP will provide nutrition education training for Samuel Merritt University nurses-in-training.
“Summer meals are provided at 140 sites in Sacramento County. If the children stick around after eating, they can take part in enrichment programs. The student nurses will fulfill a portion of their service hours by sharing nutrition education resources and activities at the meal sites,” Kenyon said.
The UC EFNEP program, which serves 24 counties in California, assists limited-resource families gain the knowledge and skills to choose nutritionally sound diets and improve well-being.
The United Way California Capital Region heads the coalition of community, business and state partners supporting the Million Meals Summer in Sacramento County.
Shoppers purchasing fruits and vegetables in stores located in low-income neighborhoods in California may pay more for those fruits and vegetables than shoppers in other neighborhoods, according to a study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.
Published online in March 2018 in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the study, conducted by researchers at UC's Nutrition Policy Institute, involved more than 200 large grocery stores, 600 small markets, and 600 convenience stores in 225 low-income neighborhoods (where at least half of the population was at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) and compared observed prices to purchased price data from chain grocery stores in the same counties during the same months.
The study found that produce prices for the items examined (apples, bananas, oranges, carrots and tomatoes) were higher in stores in low-income neighborhoods than the average prices of those items sold in stores in the same counties during the same month. Fruits and vegetables for sale in convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods were significantly more expensive than those for sale in small markets or large grocery stores. Yet even in large grocery stores the study found prices in the low-income neighborhoods to be higher than average county grocery store prices during the same month.
“Americans eat too few fruits and vegetables to support optimal health, and we know that dietary disparities among socioeconomic groups are increasing,” said study author Wendi Gosliner. “This study suggests that one important issue may be fruit and vegetable prices — not just that calorie-per-calorie fruits and vegetables are more expensive than many unhealthy foods, but also that there are equity issues in terms of relative prices in neighborhoods where lower-income Californians live.”
Additionally, the study examined the quality and availability of fruits and vegetables in stores and found that while less than half of convenience stores (41 percent) sold fresh produce, even fewer (1 in 5) sold a wide variety of fruits or vegetables, and few of the items that were for sale were rated by trained observers to be high quality (25 percent for fruits and 14 percent for vegetables).
“This study suggests that convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods currently fail to provide access to high-quality, competitively priced fresh fruits and vegetables," said Pat Crawford, nutrition expert and study author. “A healthy diet can prevent disease and reduce health care costs in the state. States need to explore new ways to help ensure that families, particularly those living in low-income neighborhoods where convenience stores are the only food retailers, have access to healthy, high-quality foods that are affordable,” Crawford added.
The study also found that convenience stores participating in federal food programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] and/or the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]) were more likely to sell fresh produce and to offer higher quality and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than stores not participating in either program.
The study was conducted under contract with the California Department of Public Health. Funding is from USDA SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.