Healthy Hues for You

-Jackie Choffo

“For your last task, you will create a nutrition education program and present it to one of the pantry sites in Montgomery County.” My heart started to race when my preceptor from Manna Food Center uttered this sentence. An entire nutrition education program? From scratch? For 120 people? What could go wrong.

It turns out if you break a big picture idea up into smaller, achievable tasks, it can be quite manageable. First task: decide on a topic. My internship partner, Isabella,  and I bounced a few ideas around that were simple to expand upon and eventually settled on the vegetable food group. Second task: develop a key message. Eating a variety of vegetables increases the variety of nutrients you are taking in, so why not emphasize colors? After that we were rolling. We made graphics to emphasize the colors of seasonal produce and the health benefits associated with them.  To make our table interactive, we decided to include a tasting to showcase how simple it is to incorporate vegetables into meals.

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Working with community groups has always been a passion of mine. Connecting with people one-on-one can be impactful, but also intimidating. There isn’t a stage or podium to hide behind when you are shaking someone’s hand and asking if they want a sample of your vegetable salad! Luckily, during my second week with Manna Food Center I was able to interact with a real live audience at the Glenmont food pantry in Silver Spring, Maryland to further develop my interpersonal skills.

On the day of the presentation, I came prepared with all of the materials  Isabella and I had created. We brought in colorful copies of “healthy hues for you,” recipe printouts, food models, and of course, the food samples. We were stationed off of the main hallway in a small room where the carts were held for the participants to shop with. Our table was proudly decorated with a bright red Manna tablecloth and displayed our education materials and hands-on activity. We were ready to go!

Since we weren’t visible to the people waiting in the check-in line, Isabella and I brought the samples and handouts to them. As people were eating the sample of black bean and tomato salad, I could really engage them in a discussion on the variety of vegetables we used in our recipe. To involve them in further discussion, I would ask them questions such as “which vegetables do you like to use when you cook” and “have you gotten any vegetables from Manna that you didn’t know how to prepare.” It was great hearing what people’s individual likes and dislikes were. Many people would light up when they listed off what they have received from Manna; some were vegetables I had never heard of before, like watermelon radish.

Along with the nutrition table set up in the room, there was a cart with free children’s books for the taking. While some parents were checking in, we would ask kids if they wanted to peruse the books. I was usually greeted with a bashful smile, a nod and then the tiny tots would dash over to the racks. This is when the food models really came in handy. I asked one girl if she recognized the vegetables I had displayed or which ones she liked. I found out she LOVED broccoli and couldn’t get enough of baby carrots. Bell peppers weren’t her favorite but the squishy bell pepper rings were fun to play with!

The main take-away I had from the evening at Glenmont was that people generally like to talk with you. I enjoyed conversing with the participants, and even learned about new ways to incorporate vegetables into my own diet! People can be at the food pantry for all different reasons, but talking about vegetables doesn’t have to put them on guard. I was able to practice connecting with a varied audience. Speaking to the participants about something relevant to their life was engaging and helpful for them. I had prepared talking points, but the most meaningful conversations involved me responding to the comments other people made about their food choices. Numerous people ask for the recipe for our sample black bean salad, and even said they were going to try it at home! Being a part of the nutrition education team at Manna was a worthwhile experience, and one I will never forget.

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