What is the Cent$ible Nutrition Program?
Mary Kay Wardlaw: It’s a collaborative effort across the state that brings together the University of Wyoming Family and Consumer Sciences Extension in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Wyoming Department of Family Services and other county and local service providers to educate low-income families about nutrition and food safety. What we do, quite simply, is help families eat better for less. Last year alone, our program graduates reported saving $600 a year on their food. If you think about what a low-income family can do with $600, it’s huge. We’re teaching them to do things that save them money, like planning menus and using grocery lists. They’re saving money largely because they’re cooking at home more and eating out less.
There are also other benefits. Our program graduates practice better safety behaviors and nutrition practices. They’re eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more fiber and calcium and reducing fat and sugar.
We have youth programming, too. But we make the most difference, in the long term, by helping parents and families make changes in their food behaviors. Those changes, in turn, have an impact on their children and future generations.
How does UW deliver this program to the people of the state?
Mary Kay Wardlaw: We have about 30 amazing educators across the state. They work with all kinds of groups and agencies in their communities, like WIC (Women, Infants and Children), Public Health, the Department of Family Services and other places where they can find folks who qualify for our program.
Schools that have 50 percent of students on free or reduced lunch are also eligible, because our qualification is 185 percent of poverty, which is the same level as the reduced lunch program.
Our educators do one-time presentations in locations where they have a collection of qualifying people to tell them about the program and get them enrolled. And then they offer our series of hands-on classes. There are five classes at the core of our program, like menu planning and food safety, but most of our graduates take an average of eight classes. All our classes include cooking.
How can Cent$ible Nutrition make a difference in the lives of Wyoming families?
Mary Kay Wardlaw: We did a long-term assessment a few years ago, because we wanted to know, ‘Do our graduates continue learned behaviors a year later, two years later, three years later?’ We sent surveys and found 500 past graduates from at least a year ago and up to four years ago, and we again gave them our behavior checklist. We didn’t see a decline. The food- and nutrition-related behaviors that people had learned, they were continuing.
We did interviews with some of them and what they told us was amazing. Three years later, they were saying, ‘I still plan menus.’ It was so successful for them and they saved so much money that they didn’t want to stop. They were still using their cookbook. One gal told me she could see the difference in her children when they started eating better, that their eyes looked clearer and brighter. And when they didn’t have very much money and she had to feed them inexpensive prepared foods, she could see it in their faces. This program makes a huge difference in the lives of Wyoming families—and we have the research and the testimonials to prove it.