Helping Families Eat Better for Less

I think we can all agree that when we know better, we do better.  And, that includes preparing healthier meals and using smarter shopping techniques.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult for those who face food insecurity or who are on a limited budget to create healthy meals.  There’s a common myth that healthy food costs more than convenience foods.  How do we combat that myth and help those who face this challenge?  One program that is working to change that narrative and help people learn to cook healthy meals, budget, and choose healthy alternatives all on a tight budget is the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) from the University of Wyoming Extension.

The Cent$ible Nutrition Program is a nutrition education and cooking program that is free to qualifying individuals.  The Program is based out of the University of Wyoming Extension Offices and has educators that provide these classes in every county in Wyoming.  It is grant funded by the USDA through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed).

The Cent$ible Nutrition Program Mission is to provide opportunities for positive change in nutrition and physical activity for the limited resource audience through education, multi-level interventions, and community engagement.

So, how exactly does that look?  The CNP Curriculum is an 8-week program that meets once a week for 90-minutes.  The Simply Cent$ible Nutrition curriculum has just been rewritten and revised to support the latest nutrition information.  Each lesson covers a different topic from mindful eating, food safety, building a healthy plate, saving on groceries, and more.  Included in each lesson is a group physical activity, cooking one of the healthy recipes from our cookbook, and interactive activities that reinforce what is being taught.  Participants receive an incentive for each class they attend such as; measuring cups, meat thermometer, flexible cutting board, etc.  Each participant also receives the Cent$ible Nutrition Cookbook

CNP has multiple curriculums for children and teaching in schools Youth programs is one of the favorite activities among our educators.

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We also provide one-time presentations to a variety of audiences to share nutrition information. Some of the partnerships include WIC offices statewide, Department of Family Services, Early Head Start, local food pantries, community gardens, farmers markets, community health clinics, and more. In Campbell County, I am very fortunate to have partnerships with our local WIC Office, the Council of Community Services, the Gillette Saturday Farmers Market, Salvation Army, 4H, Share the Harvest, and Early Head Start, just to name a few.

CNP educators also partner for larger projects. Some of the wonderful things going on around the state are community gardens that donate surplus produce to community service agencies and food pantries, encouraging people to be more active through community walking programs, education on proper nutrition and assisting in creating healthier menus, working with early childhood programs on playground stencils that encourage gross motor activities.

Each CNP educator starts where their community is in relation to food insecurity and works to make relationships with other helping agencies to create solutions and changes to the environment that help others. In Campbell County, my collaboration with the Gillette Saturday Farmers Market has been especially beneficial. I go to the Market once a month and provide cooking demos with produce purchased at the Market. It’s a great opportunity to show the public how far your dollars can go to purchase fresh, local foods.

The Gillette Saturday Farmers Market also accepts SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, and has an incentive program that will match what SNAP recipients spend up to $20. SNAP recipients go to the Market Managers booth and ask to purchase tokens with their EBT card and will be given matching funds up to the $20 for free.

Another very exciting collaboration is the Gillette Little Free Pantry project.  This came about from a wonderful discussion with the Gillette Saturday Farmers Market managers Erin Galloway and Megan McManamen, Campbell County Horticulture Program Coordinator Hannah Johnson, and Director of the Council of Community Services Mikel Scott.  We saw a need in our community and wanted a way to address it that would ensure everyone was treated equally and with dignity.  The Little Free Pantries were a way to do just that.

We have four Pantries in the community so far.  There is one outside the Food Pantry at the Council, which they supply and care for. Jenny Hartung of the Gillette Area Salvation Army supplies and cares for a little pantry outside of her facility, as well.  The other two little pantries are located at Lakeside Park, behind the Boys and Girls Club, and at Sunflower Park.  All the Little Pantries have shown that there is a need in Gillette, both the need for equitable food access and the need to help others.

We have been so fortunate and are grateful for the support from our community.  We have received over 80 pounds of food and personal care items and $150 in cash donations, so far.  We have a fifth pantry that we hope to have out by the holiday season and are currently looking for a park to place it in.  The City of Gillette has been instrumental in helping us find locations and for securely placing them for us.

The Cent$ible Nutrition Program is a wonderful program that helps those with limited incomes become fantastic and healthy cooks, while also learning how to make their benefits and budget stretch as far as possible.  Many participants have told me that they now cook five to six nights a week, while saving $35 to $60 a week on their grocery bills.  They are purchasing and consuming healthier foods and have more energy.

I have been part of the Campbell County Extension office for two years and I can’t imagine a better place to work.  It’s an incredibly rewarding job and I am so grateful to be a part of Cent$ible Nutrition, the University of Wyoming Extension, and the Campbell County & Gillette communities.

By: Beth A. Chapell for 82717

Beth is Senior Coordinator of the Cent$ible Nutrition Program for the University of Wyoming Campbell County Extension Office.  Please contact Beth at (307) 682-7281 for more information or visit uwyo.edu to see if you qualify. 

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