Writer: Tiffany Acosta, 575-646-3929, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shopping and preparing healthy meals for a family on a limited budget can be a challenge, and the New Mexico State University Dona Ana County Extension Office is helping to teach adults and children in the community the basics through the Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition (ICAN) program.
The ICAN program teaches hands-on lessons on healthy food choices, food preparation skills and food buying strategies to individuals and families with limited resources free of charge. The NMSU Dona Ana County Extension Office offers the series classes to both adults and youth.
"The program was created to improve the lives of New Mexicans through hands-on nutrition education," said Gayla Weaver, Dona Ana County ICAN home economist. "All the lessons include a cooking activity, which is really what sets our program apart from other public health programs on nutrition. It's interactive and not just a lecture."
The eight-week classes, which are taught by paraprofessional nutrition educators, are comprised of a variety of nutrition topics ranging from preparing quick and healthy meals, saving money at the grocery store and feeding infants and children more easily.
"We teach classes in community centers as well as schools," Weaver said. "We coordinate with organizations that serve the same population as the ICAN program. We are in lots of different sites."
In 2012-2013, the program graduated more than 1,800 adult and youth participants in Dona Ana County.
"At the current time, we have three bilingual educators in Dona Ana County," Weaver said. "The classes are in Spanish and English and sometimes both. All of our materials are in Spanish and English, so we can serve the population and meet their needs."
Weaver said that food safety is an important lesson to prevent people from becoming sick.
"There are four simple steps to food safety that we talk about," she said. "To fight foodborne bacteria, you will need to separate (don't cross-contaminate), clean (wash hands and surfaces often), chill food quickly and cook food to the proper temperature."
In addition to ICAN participants learning how to improve their health, they also gain valuable life skills. Upon completion of the program, graduates receive a certificate, which Weaver said has helped some graduates acquire a job in the food service industry.
"Individuals who implement this, live healthier lifestyles because of increased physical activity, awareness of limiting screen time or computer time for children and also eating healthier," Weaver said. "Children are sick less often; families have fewer medical bills; and, they save money by learning how to shop."
A recent lesson, entitled "plan, shop and save," taught participants how to read and compare grocery ads and how to read food labels.
Other ICAN classes focus on learning new cooking skills, using commodity foods wisely, learning to eat a variety of foods, eating more whole grains, vegetables and fruits, choosing lower fat foods more often, being physically aware and maintaining a healthy weight.
The ICAN program is funded by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). For more information, visit ican.nmsu.edu or contact the Dona Ana County Extension office at 575-525-6649.
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