Improved meal planning techniques lead to improved eating habits of youth and families

Childhood and adolescent obesity are an issue for 13.7 million youths nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research indicates children who have obesity are much more likely to have obesity into adulthood.The COVID-19 pandemic caused more children to be confined indoors, creating a prime condition for obesity-causing behavior. Institutions and Extension services are creating innovative ways to combat the cycle of obesity, starting right at home. TheUniversity of VermontExtension Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) partnered with atechnical center’s culinary arts instructors to provide education in cooking techniques, meal planning and nutrition through the “Eat Smart, Move More”course.As a result, 88% of the youths improved the quality of their diets, 65% improved in physical activity practicesand 59% improved in safe food handling.The University of CaliforniaCooperative Extensioncollaborated with the Shafter Healthy State Family Resource Center, CalFresh Healthy Livingand Kern County 4-H to provide virtual lessons to families on approaches to good nutrition. Parents were taught how to plan meals, save money on foodand understand food labels. Teenage volunteersgavevirtual cooking lessons to families, and the families received a bag of groceries so they could follow along with the demonstrations. After the program,participants reported improvement in resource management, shopping with grocery lists and understanding food labels. In addition, families shared enthusiasm for trying healthy food they had never had before such as tofu and quinoa. As COVID-19 caused more teens to be isolated and spend more time online, it also caused binging behavior. The AlabamaCooperative Extension System through AlabamaA&M University—a historically black land-grant institution—offered nutrition courses to enable youthsand families to develop healthy eating habits. The Urban EFNEP reached 231 Hispanic participants who learned about basic nutrition, how to plan and make healthier meals and snacks and how to apply food safety skills and smart shopping decisions when purchasing food. As a result of this training, 64% of adults and 79%of youths ate more fruit each day, and 50% of adults and 71% of youths ate more vegetables each day. Adults and youthsalso reported increased weekly physical activity.