Healthy choices are on the menu in new virtual central Oregon nutrition class

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REDMOND, Ore. – Shortly after starting the Zoom and all the introductions had been made, Katie Ahern paused to offer gratitude for the small group attending the inaugural meeting of the virtual Eat for Life, a program for adults to create healthy meals on a budget.

“Thank you for being brave,” Ahern said.

This moment had been preceded by many months of planning by Oregon State University Extension Service nutrition educators and registered dieticians at Mosaic Medical, a nonprofit community health center that serves Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson Counties.

The weekly Eat for Life classes, which began in March, have been taught in English by Ahern, an Extension nutrition educator in Deschutes County, and in Spanish by Diana Cardenas, a nutrition educator in Linn County. All the participants in the class live in central Oregon.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ahern said, faculty in the Extension Family and Community Health Program in the OSU College of Health have been finding ways to re-engage with people who attended in-person classes, workshops and events.

“We were really worried about adults, especially older adults, feeling isolated,” Ahern said. “It’s always been a concern, but it’s been heightened during the pandemic.”

Ahern explained in the first class that the goal was to plan a meal based on sale items at a grocery store, and to create a shopping list. She presented infographics and photos to show what a healthy meal looks like.

“Do you mean Taco Bell doesn’t count?” one of the attendees asked, jokingly.

“Nope, not today,” Ahern answered.

Ahern told the class that planning meals can help save time and money in addition to health benefits: “Research has shown that when you plan your meals, you tend to make healthier choices.”

Near the end of the class, each of the participants discussed the meals they planned and their shopping list.

“I’m going to take roast a whole chicken and used some to make chicken tacos,” said one attendee. “I’ll buy black beans, onions and cheese. I could add bell pepper, as well, for another vegetable. I’ll buy the low-carb tortillas. I always have salsa in my fridge. I’ll make a salad out of the lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and radishes. For fruit I’ll eat oranges."

“That’s a good meal,” Ahern said.

For many years, Oregon SNAP-Ed, a nutrition education program of OSU Extension, and Mosaic Medical offered Nutrition Kitchen to Mosaic patients. It was an in-person class focused on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption with the curriculum and hands on cooking experience.

The long road to develop an adapted program started with a SNAP-Ed workgroup, which vetted PowerPoint slides, scripts, games and fill-able handouts. The workgroup suggested Extension Food Hero recipes and videos for each lesson.

To refine the delivery, six dietetic Interns from OSU and Oregon Health Sciences University developed PowerPoint presentations, corresponding engagement activities and handouts for each lesson, and presented a lesson live using Zoom to a group of SNAP-Ed educators, followed by a live feedback session. Incremental improvements were integrated into the curriculum materials after each feedback session.

A grant from the Central Oregon Health Council is funding virtual Eat for Life, including providing coupons for fruit and vegetables to participants.

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