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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Children's Christmas cookie caper Recipe for Learning about Food, Life

LAS CRUCES - Decorating dozens of Christmas cookies gave some southern New Mexico children a chance to have fun learning about both food and sharing.

On a recent Saturday, the kids came for a decorating blitz coordinated by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. The activity was part of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which helps families with limited incomes learn ways to prepare inexpensive, nutritious meals.

From the morning's work at the Dona Ana County Extension office, the children each took home a plate of brightly decorated butter cookies and an idea for a family project.

"It gives them a hands-on activity that they can participate in and hopefully duplicate at home with their parents," said Gayla Weaver, county EFNEP home economist. "They're going to take the recipe home so they'll be able to use the cookies to decorate the tree or to give to friends. It's an inexpensive way to make Christmas presents."

In addition, the kids, 4-H members and adult volunteers assembled 20 plates of coconut-bearded Santa Clauses, frosted Christmas stockings and red-hot trimmed trees for the Gospel Rescue Mission, a Las Cruces homeless shelter.

For Bertha Tangonan, an EFNEP family educator, working with children is one of her favorite parts of the job.

The kids love learning from her, too. The proof is in a stack of Tangonan's fan mail, which rivals Santa Claus' this Christmas. The latest batch of letters is from her visit to Berino Elementary.

"They write about what they remember the most and say they want me to come back," Tangonan said, scanning the letters from the children. "Some of them say they wish I could come every day. It's very touching."

Tangonan said when children take messages about food and nutrition to heart, whole families benefit. Often, children share what they've learned about healthy snacks or the Food Guide Pyramid with their parents. In fact, she makes sure to give them supplies of information to take home.

To ensure that New Mexico families in need can learn about food and nutrition, the Extension Service is asking for $550,000 in state funding this year to expand EFNEP's reach. Currently, only four counties -- Dona Ana, Bernalillo, San Miguel and Mora have the federally funded program. EFNEP once served 23 New Mexico counties, but federal funding has stayed flat over the years. The program's supporters believe many other families need the special experiences EFNEP provides.

As the children ready for the ride home, their tummies full of milk and cookies and recipes clutched in their hands, Tangonan smiled, confident that they were taking home memories that may last a lifetime.

"If we teach the kids while they're still small, they'll grow up learning the important foods they need to eat and also food safety, the precautions they need to take when they're preparing meals," she said. "And as they grow up, they're going to remember them."