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Posts Tagged: nutrition

Trying leafy greens from a sweet potato plant

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.

Lauren shared her experiences in Ethiopia on the Agrilinks website, where she recently won the Agrilinks Young Scholars blog contest with her writing and a short video from the field.

From right, Lauren Howe of UC Davis and Tesfaye Kassa of SACE interview farmers about how they currently manage sweet potato crops on their farms.

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.

“We are producing a huge amount of sweet potato per year," explained Feleke Lera, a son of farmers in Ukara. "But before, we had no knowledge about the leaves.”
 
Lauren harvests sweet potato leaves with farmers in Ukara.
 
In Ukara, the group prepared the sweet potato leaves three different ways – sauteed, cooked with corn or maize flour in a dish called fosese, and in a salad.
 

Reflecting on taste tests, new foods, and rural communities

After preparing and tasting the sweet potato leaves, the group in Ukara discussed which dish they preferred, whether they would adopt this new practice of eating sweet potato leaves, how this practice might affect their forage supply to feed their livestock, and what their friends and family members might think of this new food. 
 
"I deeply appreciated how food is truly a universal language and the preparation, cooking and act of eating itself are relatable across cultures," Lauren wrote in her blog post.
 

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."

For more, go read the rest of Lauren's blog post and check out her short video too.

Lauren at a taste test in another community called Gurumo Koysha, where farmers overwhelmingly preferred the sautéed sweet potato leaves to the sautéed kale. The activity was intended to be a blind taste test, but Lauren reported that keeping the dishes secret was more difficult to do than originally planned.

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:

 

Sweet potato leaves in Ethiopia - Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Lauren Howe/UC Davis
Sweet potato leaves in Ethiopia - Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Lauren Howe/UC Davis

close-up on sweetpotato leaves, stems and plant

Posted on Monday, November 19, 2018 at 9:02 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Health Innovation

A Sacramento coalition wants to serve 1 million healthy meals to children this summer

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.

UC ANR's EFNEP program staffed a booth along with the UC Master Food Preserver Program at the Million Meals Summer picnic for Sacramento youth.

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.”

Sen. Robert Pan, in center with white shirt, dances with children at the Million Meals Summer picnic.

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.

Students enjoyed a healthy lunch.

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.”

Linda Dean, left, and Vanessa Kenyon of Sacramento EFNEP.

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.

 
 
Physical activities at the picnic included parachute play.
 
UC Cooperative Extension apiculture specialist Elina Niño shared information with students at the picnic about the lives of bees.
 
A few students from American Lakes Elementary School said they would be eating at summer meal sites. Left to right are James Dixon, 9, Yahaira Ramirez, 11, Diana De La Cerda, 12, and Eduardo Liscano, 9.
 
UC ANR marketing and communications specialist Suzanne Morikawa, center, fills in a visitor about EFNEP's role in the community.
Posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 1:19 PM
Tags: EFNEP (5), nutrition (195), school lunches (1), Vanessa Kenyon (1)
Focus Area Tags: Food

NPI study finds that prices for fruits and vegetables may be higher in low-income neighborhoods

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.

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 Nutrition Policy Institute study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.

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.

Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 9:05 AM
Focus Area Tags: Family Food Health

Why I'm the cupcake police

Put yourself for a minute in some kid-sized shoes. Let's call you Maggie. You are in third grade. Your dad works full time and he picked you up from the afterschool program at 6:00 p.m. You and dad got home about 7:00 p.m. because you had to stop by QuikMart to pick up something for dinner and put a little gas in the car. When you got home dad cooked the frozen pizza and you sat down to eat and drink your soda around 7:30 p.m. By the time you finished eating, took your shower, helped dad clean-up and got in bed it was 8:45 p.m.

In the morning you hurry to put your clothes on, brush your hair, brush your teeth and get everything in your school bag for the day. Dad needs to drop you off at school at 7:30 a.m. so he can get to work on time. You grab a bag of chips as you run out the door, rubbing your eyes and looking to make sure you didn't put your shirt on backwards again.

Somewhere around 10:00 a.m. your tummy starts to growl. You feel your mouth start to water a little and your eyes droop. Looking at the clock you count the minutes until lunch. At 11:25 , one of your classmate's parents comes in with a tray of cupcakes to celebrate her birthday! Your stomach jumps at the sight of pink butter cream frosting piled high on the little cakes. Your teacher hands one to each student in the class and you savor every delicious bite.

Fifteen minutes later the lunch bell rings. Your teacher walks everyone over to the cafeteria and you get in line for school lunch. You feel embarrassed to eat school lunch and since you ate that cupcake you're not really hungry anyway. You plop a few things on your plate making a face. Sitting down you pick at the food until the custodian says you can get up and go play. You dump your tray with most of the food still on it and run outside chasing your friends onto the blacktop.

Back in class you feel energized after your game of handball. Your face is red and you're a little sweaty from all the running around. Your teacher announces that your group won the weekly contest and each of you will get to pick from the candy bag. That sounds great to you because you are starting to get hungry again. You put a few pieces of candy in your mouth. You get back to work on your math problem but it's the afternoon and you always have trouble concentrating in the afternoon…

 

 

Maggie is just one of more than 30 million children in the U.S. who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals through the USDA school meal program. Students like Maggie may rely on food at school for up to 50 percent of their daily calories and school meals represent a larger portion of the school-day caloric and nutrient intake for food insecure children. In addition, research shows that income level, educational attainment and family composition impact diet quality and physical activity.

The national school lunch program, while not perfect, is intended to ensure students like Maggie are offered a variety of fruits and vegetables and whole-grain rich foods every day. There are limits to the amount of sodium, saturated fat, trans-fat and calories that are offered as part of a school meal. Studies have shown that child nutrition programs improve diet quality and academic performance for children in low-income and food-insecure households.[1]

When we offer our children and students food with little to no nutritional quality for a reward and cupcakes to celebrate a birthday, we are impacting their overall dietary quality for the day. For Maggie, the problem is compounded by the fact that she does not have access to a varied and nutritious diet at home. She has nothing to fall back on when she doesn't get a nutritious meal at school and she fills up on empty calories instead. Childhood is an important time when people develop lifelong eating and physical activity patterns.

Students love to play fun games that get them moving.

So when I am faced with the dilemma, once again, of speaking up and being the cupcake police or staying silent and going along with treats at school, I think of Maggie.

What can you do to create healthier schools for all children:

  • Look up your School Wellness Policy. Every school that participates in the School Meal Program has one. However, many times they were written and never revisited. Check your district web page or go to the Dairy Council finder. School Wellness Policies outline what is and is not allowed to be offered in the classroom or fundraisers during school.

  • Offer non-food rewards for positive behaviors: Extra physical activity time or recess, the opportunity to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the teacher, special privileges like “line leader” for the day, or the opportunity to go out to the garden. For more healthy reward ideas visit Healthy Food Choices in Schools.

  • Celebrations that reinforce health: Include physical activity like a dance party in your celebration (see GoNoodle for all kinds of fun activities and brain breaks), ask parents to bring in a donated book for the class instead of cupcakes (see Books for Birthdays), if you are going to have food, make sure non-nutritious items are limited to one per student.

  • Eat lunch with your student(s): If you're a parent, check-in with your school. Many schools allow parents to eat lunch with their children if notified in advance. If you're a teacher, eating with your students is a great way to teach and model healthy eating behaviors. Interested in learning more about the importance of school meals? Find out here.
  • Is the school offering a variety of fruits and vegetables? Can the students all see the food and serve it safely? Are any local foods available? If not, set a meeting with the Food Service staff to discuss your ideas and see how you can help. 
Take students out to the garden as a special reward.

[1] https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/84003/eib-174_summary.pdf?v=42905

 

Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 9:23 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food Health

New preschool food mural to encourage healthful eating to be unveiled Feb. 23

A mural designed to inspire kids to choose more fruits and vegetables will be unveiled at Burbank Preschool Feb. 23, 2018.

Students' surroundings can greatly impact their learning and health, research has shown.

In an effort to enhance nutrition, learning and health for these students in Oakland, the University of California Cooperative Extension, UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, Luther Burbank Preschool and Oakland Unified School District Early Childhood Education supported the installation of a mural that features silhouettes of children of different abilities among flowers, fruit and other foods cast in bold colors at Burbank Preschool. 

Burbank Preschool students and teachers helped paint the mural.
“As a SNAP-Ed funded program, part of our work at UC Cooperative Extension is to support positive environmental change,” said Tuline Baykal, UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program supervisor. “We believe that this mural in the cafeteria, with its beautiful and bold images of fruits and vegetables will encourage and remind students to make healthy choices and increase their consumption of tasty fruits and vegetables.”

Luther Burbank Preschool Center is an inclusive school serving the needs of over 200 students, ages 3 to 5, of varying abilities and needs. The Burbank preschool students and teachers helped paint the mural.

“Our students worked on the mural first, then David [Burke] completed it,” said Principal Tom Guajardo. “This project has been absolutely uplifting for our students, staff and parents. I say ‘uplifting' because I have heard comments like, “‘When I am feeling a little down or tired, I come and see the mural and I am immediately rejuvenated.' It has been a showcase when parents and visitors come to our school.”

On Friday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. the mural will be unveiled in the cafeteria of Luther Burbank Preschool at 3550 64th Avenue in Oakland. Parents, teachers and students are invited to a celebration to meet David Burke, the mural designer and well-known Bay Area artist. The UC CalFresh staff is planning some activity stations including a healthy cooking demonstration with free recipe books and a table where children can make “veggie faces” using fresh produce and hummus for dipping. 

The mural features silhouettes of children of different abilities.

 

 

Posted on Friday, February 16, 2018 at 4:01 PM
Tags: Nutrition (195), Tuline Baykal (1), UC CalFresh (11)
Focus Area Tags: Food

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