Women and children living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, poor diets and the health effects of poor eating habits. For many low income families, the refrains of “eat more fruits and vegetables, stay away from fast foods, do not eat processed or sugary foods” fall flat. Women trying to cope with multiple demands on their budgets and their time are often resigned to believe that they cannot afford to provide the healthy foods they are told to serve their families and they do not have the time, energy, or supplies to do a lot of cooking from scratch. The Healthy Eating on a Budget Demonstration Project focuses on priority areas of; Hunger, Education, Health and Poverty and includes innovative approaches to educate parents of young children and provide them with ongoing support to reach their family’s healthy eating goals.
The Healthy Eating on a Budget Demonstration Project addresses very real concerns and provides practical answers, guidance and support on how to eat healthy on a budget. The project utilizes a trained Community Health Champion (CHC) to work with Head Start parents to help them adopt better eating habits. The CHC is a peer who is trained in motivational interviewing, coaching and strategies for adopting healthy behaviors. The CHC is a former Head Start parent herself. She helps parents to set realistic goals and strategize on ways to overcome challenges to adopting healthier eating habits including: time and budgetary constraints, food preferences, and accessing fresh produce.
The Community Health Champion meets with participants at monthly meetings of 8-12 participants and provides one-on-one coaching to participants in between the monthly group meetings. Participants also receive training from a registered dietician with evidence-based advice on menu planning, shopping, and meal preparation. Head Start in Sullivan County has graciously offered meeting space for the project and there is already initial interest among Head Start parents in participating.
In addition to the monthly meetings, four workshops were held including cooking demonstrations that showed ways in which families can improve their diets while staying within their budgets. Participants will also receive cooking supplies such as crock-pots, instant pots and blenders as incentives to try new recipes and ways of cooking. Guided shopping trips will be arranged. More than just telling parents what they should be doing, the project aims to actually show them how to do it and ensure that they can adopt meaningful change over the long term that will set their young families on a course for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
In order to have an impact far beyond just the 8-12 participating families, the second phase of the project will disseminate the lessons learned to the broader community. Participants who agree to share their stories will serve as demonstration families. The project will document the families’ journeys toward adopting a healthier diet while staying within their food budgets. They will have their experiences recorded, videotaped and broadcast to the wider community through a media campaign using social media marketing tools such as YouTube, Facebook, Facebook Live, Instagram and a public community forum. The intent is to magnify the impact to reach hundreds to thousands of similar local families. The project will document their experiences in both an educational and entertaining way through videography as we watch families shop for healthier ingredients, prepare meals at home and learn from their testimonials about the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. The goal is for other local families to see themselves in the demonstration families, to relate to them, and thus learn from their experiences.