KEIZER, Ore. – Color has become the main attraction in chicken tacos and on pizza at the Matthew and Brittany Powell home in Keizer.
Daughters Chloe, age five; Makenna, two; and perhaps even baby Grace, at two months, are delighted with the green, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes and broccoli that make their favorite meals not only more nutritious and tasty, but fun.
Their parents, who won a contest to become "Food Heroes," were concerned about the health of the children when they discovered they were spending more money on junk food than on nutritious meals. The contest, sponsored by Oregon State University Extension Service, is part of a campaign to encourage limited-income Oregonians to improve their diets.
"The Powell family was truly interested in a food makeover," said Anne Hoisington, OSU nutrition educator in the Portland metro area. "The parents tended to buy what they knew the children would eat and thought that meant only foods that are sweet."
In exchange for personal help from OSU nutrition educator Dana Baxter, the Powell family agreed to be videotaped to illustrate what they learned about buying groceries and fixing meals. The videos are on YouTube: Food Hero Makeover Contest:
A trip to the grocery store with Baxter proved that the healthy fruits and vegetables they purchased actually cost less than the junk food they had been buying. As they learned to make meals together, they discovered that kids are more likely to eat what they help prepare, especially if it's a smoothie.
They also realized that food does not have to be fresh to be good for you, Brittany said.
"Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables don't spoil as easily as fresh,” she said. “It’s nice to keep them on hand for when we are in a hurry."
The Powells are enjoying new healthy recipes, the same ones featured in grocery stores in Josephine, Klamath, Lane and Marion counties, where the Food Hero campaign was debuted. The campaign features a web site where users can create shopping lists and learn to stretch their food budgets. The site also has family-friendly, healthy recipes and ideas to involve children in the kitchen.
Winning the contest was life-changing for the Powells, according to Brittany. "We feel so much better," she said, "and we have more energy now that we're eating more fruits and vegetables."
The idea for Food Hero came earlier this year after OSU surveyed people eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program). Results showed that although 81 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to serve more balanced meals, they tended not to eat recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
A diet rich in produce may reduce the risk of chronic disease, including some types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. It also can help people maintain their weight, a serious problem for Oregonians. Six in 10 of the state's adults are overweight or obese, according to a report by the Oregon Department of Human Services.
The Food Hero campaign is funded through the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oregon Department of Human Services and OSU Extension.