Monday, March 18, 2013

Priming the Pump: Helping Families Find Motivation for Making Healthy Food Choices

A nutrition professor of mine once said, “You can’t motivate people to change, they have to motivate themselves.” Since joining FoodCorps last August, I have wanted to create an educational opportunity just for parents to offer tips and information about helping their students eat more healthfully. I am passionate about working with families because I know there are many factors that play into what goes into a sack lunch or a dinner meal. I also know that early food experiences influence lifelong eating habits, so family eating practices are very important. Because I am new to the district, I wanted to serve in the community for a while before figuring out what nutrition topics are important to Fayetteville parents and how best to present them, or if they are even interested in nutrition education.               

Ally and Sophia team up to talk nutrition at a family
healthy cooking class.
For the last few months I have been serving with garden clubs and cooking classes, talking with PTO presidents and other school staff, and providing free nutrition counseling to parents and students through the district’s Wellness and Education Clinic. These experiences have given me a better feel for the nutrition topics of interest in the parent community. Next, I sat down with my supervisor and the district’s Coordinated School Health Coordinator to better understand what sort of setting and timeframe parents would be willing to come to an educational event. We thought a class series would interest parents but it would have to include kid-friendly activities or child care, occur before dinner, and be promoted like crazy. I remember thinking, “Let’s be realistic. The classes will be a success if I can get just five parents to show up at these events”. If national service and community outreach have taught me anything, it’s that 1) low turnout does not mean low impact and 2) offer free food at any event you host-and advertise that food.

Photo credit Alison Hewitt
The night of my first child nutrition class, 20 people showed up! Success. The constant, shameless promotion and free snacks worked! I presented on basic nutrition for kids and picky eating. The presentation seemed to go well. The parents and older kids were nodding and asking questions and the young kids were busy coloring and making masks and munching on healthy snacks.  I presented a Think Your Drink activity in which everyone guessed how many teaspoons of sugar were in various sweetened drinks and then parent-kid dyads scooped the actual amount of sugar in each drink into cups with plastic spoons. Oh, I almost forgot, community outreach has also taught me that, in some cases, eliciting “shock and awe” is acceptable.  Every parent and child had a look of astonishment on their faces as they scooped up to 16 teaspoons of sugar into their cups.

At the end of the presentation, a middle-schooler asked how to make the kale chips I offered as a snack. The other attendees were also very interested in knowing too. I almost squealed with joy. I briefly explained how to prepare them and made sure to take their email addresses to send them the recipe. Since then the kale chips recipe has been sent to the families in attendance, the coordinated school health committee, the assistant superintendent and a lady in Florida. Double success!

My second class in the series was presented at in existing parent event called, Parent University. I presented Meals on the Go and Healthier Fast Food Options. Though there was very low turnout at the event as a whole, and I only had two people total attend my three sessions, I feel like the time and effort preparing for the event was worth it. I set up a one-on-one nutrition counseling appointment with the daughter of one attendee after one session and helped a frustrated single mom of three troubleshoot quick and cheap lunch and dinner ideas for her family. These conversations may not have happened if more parents were in attendance. The mom of three also told me that after attending the first nutrition class, she and her three kids stopped drinking soda and chocolate milk—cold turkey. She had no idea there was so much sugar in all those drinks. The kids order water at restaurants on their own now, she said. She reports feeling great since she stopped drinking soda and plans to attend the rest of my classes.

It’s true you can’t motivate people to change. I can tell people about healthy eating until I am blue in the face, but if they are not self-motivated to make that change, it ain’t gonna happen. I have experienced this time and time again. However, you can offer knowledge and teach skills. You can prime the pump. I plan to continue the child nutrition class series, shamelessly promote it, and offer free healthy snacks. It’s rewarding to know that the information I share is of value to motivated parents who find the time to attend nutrition classes and focus their energy on healthy lifestyle changes for their families. 

by Ally Mrachek

Feel free to contact us if you would like resources from Ally's presentation. 

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