Feeding With Impact: What’s Working in Nutrition Ed

by Stephanie Berno Director of Outreach Services, Houston Food Bank

It’s not surprising that the Houston Food Bank is big. We are in Texas and being the biggest is a source of pride. Our goal is to provide 100 million nutritious meals to those we serve, and that is big. The downside, is the big need for food assistance in southeast Texas. One in five adults and one in four children in Texas experience food insecurity.

The Houston Food Bank’s nutrition education team has taught over 1,025 nutrition, cooking and physical activity classes in the past nine months for more than 15,000 individuals ages three to 80+. We have a dream team of seven nutrition educators, a coordinator and manager. Five of the educators teach in both English and Spanish to meet the needs of the community. The team is passionate, motivated and dedicated to this work.

Over the years, our nutrition education focus and strategy has evolved, and programming is more outcome-oriented with increasing effort in the evaluation process. We have sought expertise on increasing data collection and how to evaluate data to understand the impact of what we do on changing the lives of our clients. Evaluation also provides insights on where we can improve.

Three components that are making a difference now is our focus on parent education, point of service taste testing and hands-on cooking demonstrations with kids to feed with impact. School districts currently providing parent programming are among our best partners to facilitate four- and six-part parent cooking and nutrition series. We also recruit community partners for continued collaboration with schools that offer parent education. Doing this enables us to work with engaged participants, maintain high attendance across a series and allows us to often host multiple series at the same schools throughout the year.

One curriculum we use is effective for initiating behavior change and has the added benefit of sending ingredients home with participants so they can prepare healthy recipes with their families. Talking about eating more vegetables is a start. Hands-on preparation and taste tasting recipes in class is great. Enabling parents to take unfamiliar vegetables home to share with their families is even better!

We have created a four-part series for kids based on MyPlate that works in both the after-school setting and in community summer programs. The emphasis is on exploring, touching and tasting food. Fruit and vegetable tastings, providing children with three to four small samples, can open their taste buds. The team has marveled at learning some kids have never tasted kiwi fruit, pears or even cabbage.

Both adults and children have embraced feeding with impact. Nutrition educators take fruits and vegetables from our warehouse, usually retail pickup or donations, directly to class participants. Sometimes kids will immediately eat the apples we take, while adults usually take the vegetables or fruits home. Small quantities by the piece or bunch allow educators to “practice what they preach” and add an extra serving of produce to each participant’s intake for the day. Feeding with impact is a small effort that sends a big message to those we serve, so we can talk about healthy food choices and help participants make them.

Stephanie has been a registered dietitian for more than 20 years and is a native Houstonian. She has recently moved from the role of nutrition education manager at the Houston Food Bank to Director of Outreach Services. Stephanie loves her job, is humbled to be part of the food bank mission to serve the community, and is excited by expanding opportunities in program evaluation, community collaboration and integrating nutrition education into health care initiatives for those who need food assistance.