IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program celebrates 20 years of serving Floridians

Topic(s): Agriculture, Economics, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Nutrition, Vegetables

A family having a picnic for the Healthy eating calendar and IFAS branding images.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — At first, Sheila Bryant was skeptical about the cooking class offered by the University of Florida’s UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program. The program was started 20 years ago to help low-income families make better food choices to prevent chronic diseases.

Bryant, who attended the “Cooking that Matters” class in Gainesville, Florida, believed that decades of eating her own cooking was probably good enough. But she walked away a convert to healthier eating.

“Oh my, I learned so much: how to cut down on fat, incorporate more vegetables and lean meats in my meals, and how to make better choices,” Bryant said. “Now, instead of ordering Chinese food, I make my own stir-fry and invite my neighbors and friends over for a feast. I’ve spread the gospel of the Family Nutrition Program to anyone I meet.”

The program was started at UF when a handful of UF/IFAS Extension agents petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to participate in the USDA-Food Nutrition Service program, said Karla Shelnutt, associate professor, Extension nutrition specialist and principal investigator for FNP. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program that makes a statewide impact.

In the first year, FNP offered nutrition education, primarily in schools, in 11 Florida counties, and reached 5,283 participants, Shelnutt said. In 2015, the program reached more than 103,000 limited-resource families and individuals with youth and adult programming in 37 counties, she said. “Today, we operate through UF/IFAS Extension offices in 51 counties, and the program has grown from $2.9 million to $14.7 million,” Shelnutt added.

While nutrition education is still the main focus of FNP, the program has expanded its efforts in recent years to impact environments and policies to help make the healthy choice the easier choice, Shelnutt explained. Some examples include FNP’s work with school and community gardens, and farmers markets to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables; serving on and advising school and community wellness committees; training cafeteria workers on the Smarter Lunchrooms movements; and training child care providers on Let’s Move! Child Care to help young children build healthy habits, she said.

“Our work encompasses everything from getting farmers markets to accept SNAP benefits to getting school gardens started to teaching people how to shop in grocery stores,” Shelnutt said. “We help Florida families take small steps to make big lifestyle changes that lead to healthier lives.”

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

Source: Karla Shelnutt, 352-273-3535, kpagan@ufl.edu

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