UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program has made an easy-to-follow video on how to make sweet potato tater tots. They are yummy and nutritious!
On Wednesday, August 18th, The CT Farm to School Collaborative partnered with The CT Youth Food Program Alliance to host a virtual event, for youth, by youth!
The virtual event included a career panel, and mini-workshops, that were hosted by the following Youth MCs, Sayaada Arouna of Grow Hartford Youth Program, Melyssa Cristino of Grow Windham, and FoodCorps CT Alumni, Ms.Vetiveah Harrsion.
Thank you to our CT Farm to School Youth Planning Committee Interns, Darlenne Cazarin, Common Ground High School Alum, Treyvion Taylor of Nonprofit Accountability Group, Fatima Santos of Stamford Public Schools, and adult lead planner, Ally Staab FoodCorps CT Alumni.
This event was created with the intention to expand opportunities for youth in CT farm to school. What better way than to engage youth in educationally fun workshops related to nutrition, food justice, careers, and farm life. Local CT community leaders were our workshop facilitators and career panelists.
At the end of the event, students were sent a Certificate of Contribution, and Grow Kits from UConn Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Students also were invited to become youth participants in UConn’s EFNEP Program.
Heather, Molly, and Juliana of our UConn Expanded Food and Nutrition Program led participants through a virtual nutrition and cooking class.
After completion participants shared:
“Best class ever!”
“The class was great, complete information, I liked it and learned a lot about food, hygiene, and sugary drinks. The drink class was very informative! Thank you to both educators and the translator. We really appreciated the materials and utensils.”
“I looked forward to this class each week, you have been part of our home the past 5 weeks.”
“I didn’t like cooking before but I do now. I have tried the recipes and my family enjoys them. These last 12 months have been so hard. I never thought being on the computer would bring me joy.”
“When I made the lentil burgers I thought they would taste disgusting, but I tried them and they were SO good!”
We love the wonderful feedback. Congratulations graduates!
Click here to learn more about UConn EFNEP
Food insecurity is not a new phenomenon, but the COVID-19 pandemic intensified the situation for many residents, including those in Fairfield County. Food banks and pantries across the state expanded their services to help the increasing numbers of food insecure families.
The pandemic introduced Heather Peracchio, an Assistant Extension Educator in our Fairfield County office with Lori Turco, the food pantry coordinator for Walnut Hill Community Church. They were introduced by Steve Harding and quickly formed a strong partnership to meet the communities’ needs. Heather works with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and with SNAP-Ed.
The number of families being served by the Walnut Hill Community Pantry increased because of the pandemic from 150 pre-pandemic to over 500 families. The food pantry was offered monthly before the pandemic and then shifted to weekly when the pandemic started. Staff serve three locations: the church in Bethel, Derby and New Milford. They serve over 1,500 families across the three locations from 22 towns. Some families come from as far as Stamford, Torrington, or Waterbury—there is a huge need for food resources.
The partnership between Extension and Walnut Hill Church started with Operation Community Impact— Heather wanted to help food pantries access the milk and dairy products donated by Guida’s and Cabot. Walnut Hill Church was happy to accept the donations and let Extension use their FEMA supplied 40-foot refrigerated trailer for deliveries. The Fairfield County Extension team connected food pantries throughout the area with dairy donations. Team members Edith Valiquette, Donna Liska, Linda Connelly, and the 4-H volunteers that delivered dairy were crucial to the project.
From that initial collaboration, the partnership has grown, and expanded the services offered to the community. “I connected Lori and the Walnut Hill Community Pantry to the Danbury Food Collaborative,” Heather says. “She has used that connection to establish a network of food distributions and Walnut Hill Church has become the main delivery site for all Danbury area USDA Farmers’ to Families Food Boxes. Lori also started a non-profit Community Food Rescue and is planning a Food Hub in Danbury.”
“The partnership with UConn Extension is phenomenal,” Lori says. “The only time we get dairy is in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box or from Extension. The Extension team organized the dairy donations and facilitated funds. We were able to consistently provide milk for almost 500 families. We could buy more food with the money we have and be able to give fresh milk to everyone.”
Greenhouse Wealth Management, LLC in Westport generously donated $1500 to the effort (photo below). Ryan Callas owns the company and is a UConn alumni. He heard about the initiative through an employee whose cousin lives next door to Heather—and Ryan was happy to get involved because of the UConn ties. The initial donation from Green Wealth Management prompted other donations that further supported Operation Community Impact in Fairfield County.
Extension’s contributions extend beyond facilitating and coordinating the dairy donations for food pantries. Our educators provide resources and connections for many areas of need. For example, Heather makes videos in English and Spanish for each USDA Food Box to help recipients use the items they are receiving.
Heather creates videos where she uses the ingredients in the food boxes in recipes. She then creates a QR code that links to the video to help recipients use the products. “Her videos have friendly, helpful hints and they are bilingual,” Lori says. “It helps make the food stretch further for our families. We put the QR code on our program materials each week for our families. The videos are an amazing tool that she’s created for us.”
Baby food was secured for families, and Heather also connects them to other resources, answers questions on everything from nutrition to expiration dates, and serves as an overall resource for the community.
“UConn Extension has helped us on multiple levels way beyond the dairy donations during Operation Community Impact,”
Lori says. “They gave us laundry cards last week for our families to get laundry done. Heather connected us with birthday bags for our residents too, these have everything a family needs to create a birthday for a family member. I can’t say enough about UConn Extension connecting us with the people we need. We’re extremely thankful for everything we’ve received.”
“Our work with Lori captures the essence of what Extension is,” Heather says. “UConn Extension helped the community, and we also fostered connections related to food security that are sustainable and will have long-term effects on the people living here.”
Article by Stacey Stearns
“Me encanto aprendí mucho.”
“Fue de mucha ayuda y ahora lo pongo en práctica. Me ayudo mucho a comer más saludable y a gastar menos dinero comprando comida en ofertas.”
“Tratare de integrar a mis comidas todos los consejos que aprendi en esta clase ya que son muy productivos. Gracias por compartir con nosotras todos sus conocimentos de cocina.”
“Me fijaré más en la lista de nutrición de los productos, para controlar en no exceder en los valores diarios, tratar de poner en práctica las recomendaciones de relajación para cuando tenga mucha presión en mis tareas diarias, consumir comida más sana de manera divertida para mis niños.”
Some words shared by Danbury Head Start parents after completing their EFNEP course.
Learn more about our UConn EFNEP program at https://efnep.uconn.edu/.
March is National Nutrition Month! This past year has proven that nutrition and health are more important to all of us than ever. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is UConn Extension’s outreach nutrition program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR). Since EFNEP’s inception as a USDA demonstration program in 1968, community educators work with low-income, limited resource families with children to learn how to food shop, prepare and eat more healthily as well as increase physical activity.
National Nutrition Month is a natural connection for EFNEP’s year round healthy lifestyle education. Designated in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this promotion began as a weeklong campaign to promote the profession as well as to communicate nutrition messages to the public. As a result of growing consumer interest, there was a transition to month long event in 1980. Each year a theme is chosen to embody health through nutrition and physical activity.
This year’s theme is Personalize Your Plate because everyone is unique in regard to body type, goals, cultural background, taste preferences and experiences. During this unprecedented past year, EFNEP has pivoted along with the rest of the world to social media for connection and engagement with friends, family and acquaintances. Through the EFNEP Facebook page and Extension Instagram and website, messages have included recipes, video short talks and cooking demonstrations to highlight how to Personalize Your Plate. Join us on social media and our websites to learn more about nutrition and healthy lifestyle education.
Article by Umekia R. Taylor, MS, RDN, CDN; UConn Educator/EFNEP Supervisor
Denny S. National nutrition month: a brief history. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106 (3):365-366.
Do you have a current/past position with the CT AND Board?
I have been many positions on the CT AND board but currently I am the Food Security and Sustainability Co-Chair.
What inspired you to become a RDN?
My first year at UConn I found the course ‘The Science of Food’ fascinating and was inspired to take more classes in Nutritional Sciences. I have had an interest in food and cooking from a young age. In fact, my mom taught after school cooking programs for elementary age students and I was her assistant.
Where do you work now and where have you worked in the past?
I currently work as an Assistant Extension Educator at the University of Connecticut based out of the Fairfield County Extension office. I have been faculty at UConn since 2008, first working in the Department of Allied Health Sciences as a community nutrition preceptor (2008-2012) and then transferred to my current role and office in Bethel, CT (2012-current) as my husband and I settled in nearby Brookfield and started our family. I also worked part-time as an outpatient dietitian at Community Health Center, Inc. covering Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford locations 2012-2018.
What is your favorite recipe/food?
I could never pick just one! I love cooking and have many favorites. I especially enjoy sharing recipes with friends and clients that are delicious, nutritious and easy to prepare.
How is food related to your culture?
My parents and grandparents valued food and its origin. My grandparents on my fathers side were farmers and very much connected to the land. My grandfather grew up on a dairy farm, Quinnequack Farm in Northeast Connecticut and my grandmother as the daughter of a dairy owner, Arrow Lakes Dairy in Cranston, RI. My grandparents on my mothers side were avid gardeners and wonderful cooks. Growing up my parents and grandparents shared many stories and recipes that had been passed down to them.
General tip for improving diet?
Make half your plate fruits and veggies! I am always sure to share this simple tip in presentations as it can easily shift one’s diet in a more healthful direction.
If stranded on island-what one food or beverage you would want an unlimited supply of?
What is the best part of your job?
I love my job because each day is different. At times I am working on research projects or writing grants, other times I am connecting with community partners such as emergency food sites or I might be in the field giving presentations or attending health fairs. No two days look alike.
How has Covid-19 changed the way that you do your job?
The majority of my work has shifted to telecommuting, spending much of my day in virtual meetings or chatting with colleagues on Microsoft teams. My nutrition presentations and class series have transitioned to a virtual format. Also all data collection tools that were traditionally pen and paper have been transitioned to online survey formats. It is certainly different but I am still doing what I love.
Where do you want to see the RDN/NDTR profession in 10 years?
I would love to see RDNs working more in primary care. In my role at CHC I saw the value and appreciation for RDNs in primary care and enjoyed working as part of an interdisciplinary team. I hope that model of care expands and RDNs work more in primary care clinics as well as alongside pharmacists in community pharmacies. Pharmacies are quickly becoming the go-to resource for primary care and will become more important as vaccination efforts increase. I feel this could be a great place for multidisciplinary work and a great way for RDNs to connect with patients.
Chicken Vegetable Soup with Kale is a protein-packed recipe that will warm you up and fill you up. Heather Peracchio and Juliana Restrepo Marin walk us through the recipe for this delicious soup.
Try out this yummy sweet potato nachos recipe! Click here for a downloadable pdf.