Posts Tagged: nutrition
In a new series starting today, UC ANR features a sampling of our academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.
UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Deepa Srivastava arrived in the San Joaquin Valley in 2017 to conduct a research and education program that makes children and families healthier in Tulare and Kings counties.
Srivastava joined Cooperative Extension with diverse experience in obesity prevention research and program implementation and evaluation. Her job combines extension, research, university and public service to promote healthy living among families and children in low-income communities.
“I could hardly believe how well this job fit my interests, skills and education,” she said. “I have been involved in research and implementation and evaluation of nutrition education programs in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The UCCE position is ideal.”
Born in India, Srivastava immigrated to the United States after completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in her home state of Allahabad. She also earned a master's degree at North Dakota State University before moving to Nebraska, where she earned a Ph.D. in human sciences, with specialization in child, youth and family studies. After completing her doctorate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Srivastava also worked as a project lead for the Ecological Approach to (EAT) Family Style project.
“My educational background and diverse experience prepared me to be a professional in the field of childhood obesity prevention and nutrition education,” Srivastava said.
Srivastava manages two federally funded nutrition programs for low income residents of Tulare and Kings counties. The CalFresh Healthy Living program presents information on food safety, food resource management, gardening, physical activity and youth engagement. Educators reach out to elementary schools to help develop school wellness policies and make lunchroom changes that steer children toward making nutritious food choices.
The second program, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, presents a series of classes to low-income families at community centers, schools and other service centers. The classes help participants stretch their food dollars, select and prepare healthy foods and take part in physical activity.
To shape her research program in Tulare and Kings counties, Srivastava conducted a needs assessment study to understand nutrition practices in early childhood education settings. Tulare and Kings counties are among the counties in the state with high levels of obesity and food insecurity.
Following her needs assessment, Srivastava concluded a successful pilot focused on preschoolers in Kings County. She and her nutrition team in Kings County, in partnership with the Department of Hospitality Management at West Hills Community College-Lemoore and preschools located at the college campus, implemented a collaborative nutrition education program to help preschoolers learn about healthy eating.
Srivastava is conducting further research to assess program sustainability and community engagement efforts, including how nutrition education offered by UCCE in Tulare and Kings counties motivates children and families to improve their knowledge, attitude, skills and behavior. Her research aims to understand the influences on children's eating and physical activity practices.
Srivastava is actively involved in obesity prevention initiatives within UC ANR and at the local, statewide and national level. Working with local community partners, she and her team have already introduced a number of change initiatives in Tulare and Kings counties to promote healthy lifestyles across lifespan, such as establishing new school gardens, youth engagement projects, healthy youth farmer's market and physical activity such as walking clubs and dance exercise classes.
“Our team is supported by experts from the University of California who are on the cutting-edge of the latest research and curriculum design,” Srivastava said.
Srivastava and her team were recognized at the National Extension Association for Family & Consumer Sciences conference in Hershey, Penn., in October 2019, where they won two SNAP-Ed/EFNEP awards: third-place at the national level and first place for the Western region.
“I am proud of my team's passion and hard work,” she said. “Our nutrition education programs have meaningful private and public values that promote healthy people and communities.”
The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) marked the first major update to school meal guidelines across America in 15 years. Prior to HHFKA, there were no restrictions on salt, fat content in milk, or trans fats. Fruits and vegetables were grouped together, and there were no guidelines about increasing variety. In addition, snacks (i.e., competitive foods, since they compete with the school meal program) were not regulated, which meant that students could purchase junk food like candy bars and soda through vending machines right next to the cafeteria.
At the same time, childhood obesity rates were continuing to increase, along with risk factors associated with chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. With the updated regulations for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, millions of students across the U.S. got access to healthier meals, more in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
But what about the other foods that are available to kids during the school day? If a cookie is being sold right next to the school lunch and at a lower price, why not just buy the cookie? Or if you know your class is getting brownies from the teacher later, why get lunch at all?
The answer: New standards under the HHFKA set regulations on snacks that can be sold during the school day. Now called Smart Snacks, these food items must align with federal nutrition standards. Such standards include being at least:
- 50% whole grain OR
- having the first ingredient on the nutrition label be a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein food OR
- being a combination food where at least ¼ cup of the snack is a fruit or vegetable.
Many granola bars, popcorn, crackers and even treats like brownies can be a Smart Snack. Whole fruit, vegetables and frozen fruit in water or 100% fruit juice are always Smart Snacks. These standards are also required for fundraisers and events that occur during the school day, basically anytime money is exchanged for food at school. Surprising to most, the school day (for the purpose of school food regulations) actually starts at midnight before and ends 30 minutes after the last class of the day.
What makes a snack 'smart'?
Don't worry, it's not just kale chips and broccoli stalks (although kale chips and broccoli are awesome!). There are a variety of Smart Snacks that fit the taste preferences for every age range.
As parents, community partners, school boosters and school staff, we all have a role in ensuring our youth have access to healthier snacks at school. It's also the law if your school participates in the federal school meal program. To find out if the food you want to sell or give out to kids makes the smart snack grade, you can check out the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Smart Snack online calculator, where you can enter in the nutrition information from the food label. Also, large online retailers like Costco and Amazon have Smart Snacks stores where you can browse and purchase a variety of compliant Smart Snacks. These standards have been around for some time now, but many people are still unfamiliar with them or don't understand their importance.
While Smart Snacks rules only apply to food that is sold to students during the school day, other policies - like your district's Local School Wellness Policy – may govern what can be provided to students on campus through rewards and incentives or at school celebrations. So, while there are regulations about what can be sold at school during the school day, why stop there? Why not make your after school fundraiser or snack shack healthy? Why not use smart snacks instead of sugary treats? Or even better, use non-food incentives like a birthday book instead of the same sugary cupcakes that come around each time there is a birthday. Instead of selling soda for $1 with the hotdog meal at the school carnival, try sparkling water or a hydration station with fruit infused water and a prize if you bring your own reusable water bottle. Just like clothes and movies, healthy and sustainable foods are becoming more trendy and lucrative for your fundraiser!
Overall, Smart Snacks are an important complement to the national school meal program and can be a great way to help students maintain growth and success in the classroom while also helping to maintain healthy lifestyles throughout life. Let your PTA and school partners know with this new infographic.
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