Popular nutrition program returns to help at-risk families in Umatilla and Morrow counties

According to the 2018 Umatilla County Community Health Assessment, 42% of adults are obese and suffer from a variety of health issues such as food insecurity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Oregon State University Extension’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) unit in Umatilla and Morrow counties helped address these issues in the past by partnering with Umatilla-Morrow Head Start to provide “Fruits and Veggies for Families” nutrition education classes for lower-income families in the two counties.

The program ended, however, due to staff changes, leaving a large education gap in lower-income families with high risk of obesity related disease or complications. In 2022 Umatilla-Morrow SNAP-Ed partnered with the Oregon Washington Health Network to revive Fruits and Veggies for Families to serve about 50 families at high risk for nutrition related diseases due to obesity or poor diet. The partnership received a $40,000 grant from the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization's Community Benefit Initiative Reinvestment grant program.

Community members could apply to Fruits and Veggies for Families if they had a known health risk and were experiencing food insecurity. OSU Extension and the Oregon Washington Health Network provided six in-person classes throughout July, August and September. At each class families received a bag of about $40 worth of locally grown produce. During the lessons, attendees reviewed a nutrition topic and prepared Food Hero recipes.

Food Hero is a statewide initiative of OSU Extension SNAP-Ed. All the recipes are tested according to criteria, such as overall flavor, color and texture. Food Hero meals are low-cost and feature easy to find ingredients, easy to follow instructions and minimal preparation time. 

After preparing and sampling the dishes, the group discussed ways to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. The program started with 46 families and by the last class 32 families continued in the program. In the months of October through May families have been provided with monthly at-home lessons through a newsletter and $20 grocery gift card to help increase their fruit and vegetable consumption.

In post-program surveys, families have shared that the lessons helped them make healthier choices when purchasing and choosing produce. They reported that they prepared more dishes with fruits and vegetables and felt healthier overall.

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