Americans are getter fatter and experiencing a steady increase in chronic diseases. We in Wisconsin are not bucking this trend. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 62.8% of Wisconsinites are overweight and 26.3% are obese. This additional weight can lead to diabetes, heart disease and a number of other adverse health conditions. Unfortunately, people that are lower income are more at risk for being overweight or obese for a number of reasons. One key factor is that high calorie, energy dense foods are often the cheapest but lacking in nutritional value. Think of refined grains, sugar and fat—food businesses have made these items easily accessible and inexpensive.
To address the problem of access to healthy foods, West CAP developed the Family Table Program as a pilot project in 2008. Initial support was provided through a development grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program. Over the past 2 years, Family Table activities have included expanding classes to five counties and development of a standard curriculum with specific nutrition objectives. Families attend a series of classes held once a week. Each week highlights a type of food such soups, salads, stir fry, pizza and sandwiches. Emphasis is placed on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Families learn about buying fruits and vegetables in season, using beans to stretch the protein component of meals, and utilizing local sources of food such as the farmers market or food cooperatives.
Close partnership with local UW-Extension nutrition educators has made the program viable. The nutrition educators are able to deliver nutrition information and West CAP staff then assists the families to cook the evening’s meal and enjoy eating together as a family. In addition to partnering with UW-Extension, the program has benefited from having academic partners through the Wisconsin Partnership Program and Americorp VISTA volunteers. In-kind support from local school districts has allowed the program to use Family and Consumer Science classrooms equipped with multiple kitchens. This has been particularly helpful because it gives each family the opportunity to work together in a kitchen setting to prepare their meals. Parents are often amazed at what their children can accomplish in the kitchen and it provides a great parenting education component to the program.
Since the program began five years ago, 429 people have attended classes—with over 50% being children. At the beginning of the program, only adults attended classes. However, children were added to the mix to encourage long term change in families’ eating habits. We found that it is often the children who “drive the grocery cart.” One dad reported, “Megan (age 11) never ate vegetables until this class. Now she sautés veggies several time a week.” Lillie, a first-grader, said, “I really like to learn how to do stuff in the kitchen without screwing up.”
While Family Table is not the entire answer to the goal of having families eat healthy foods, it has become a strategic part of local attempts by two county level nutrition coalitions to engage community members in healthier lifestyles.
For more information on Family Table, please contact Robyn Thibado at 715-265-4271, ext. 1330 or firstname.lastname@example.org.