Tuesday, October 19, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on November 15th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 37 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 37

Santa Maria's 4-H SNAC clubs provide nutritional education to low-income families


It can be especially difficult for low-income families to find healthy foods and to make time for beneficial physical activity. In a 2016 health assessment of Santa Barbara County, 28 percent of surveyed adults said they were obese, and 24 percent rated their health as being fair to very poor.

The 4-H Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC) clubs are providing local students with healthy food tastings, nutritional presentations, and gardening lessons so those kids can in turn teach their classmates and families about healthy choices.

The 4-H SNAC Youth Leadership Training event will include various sessions, like making blankets for people in need or teaching parents how to prepare healthy smoothies with fresh ingredients.

The 4-H SNAC clubs, available in four of Santa Maria’s elementary schools, teach fifth and sixth graders in low-income communities simple ways to live healthier lives, according to the University of California (UC) Agriculture and Natural Resources. SNAC club kids are then trained to advocate for healthy changes in their communities and schools.

Students involved in SNAC and their families are invited to a Youth Leadership Training summit at Liberty Elementary on Nov. 18. Attendees will be able to sign up for different hands-on sessions where they’ll learn STEM, public speaking, gardening, and community service skills from 1 to 6 p.m. At the end of the day, kids will learn various culinary skills while cooking dinner for family members in attendance.

The 4-H SNAC program is a collaborative effort between UC CalFresh Nutrition Education, UC 4-H Youth Development, and the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. The CalFresh program, according to CalFresh Nutrition Education Manager Shannon Klisch, is part of a nationwide effort funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve nutrition education and healthy living in low-income communities.

“For nutrition education, reaching low-income populations is critical and crucial,” Klisch said. “We know a lot of low-income communities don’t have the same access to healthy foods or places to get active.”

For example, Klisch said, while kids who live in wealthier communities often walk to school, safety concerns can prevent kids in low-income communities from walking. Although it may seem small, simple healthy habits are important.

Since SNAC started in Santa Barbara County in February 2015, clubs have been implemented in Liberty, Bruce, Adam, and Rice elementary schools, where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced meals. About 70 kids are currently involved, Klisch said.

SNAC holds lunch and afterschool meetings, and students involved get to focus on their interests. Klisch said a lot of students are interested in healthy cooking and physical activity, so they’ll work on projects centered on those ideas. Those interested in cooking can learn healthy recipes and then provide tastings to their peers during lunch.

During family nights, Klisch said students develop booths where they can teach parents about nutrition.

“They love to do that,” Klisch said.

A recent student project focused on healthy hearts, so students made smoothies with a bicycle-powered blender. Parents’ bike pedaling turned the blender’s blades.

Gardening is another major focus, because Klisch said kids are more likely to try food they’ve worked to grow.

In her experience, Community Education Specialist Lisa Paniagua said kids are most interested in learning new ways to eat vegetables that actually taste good. She does tastings with the clubs once a week, and said kids are always shocked at how good fruits and veggies can taste.

“They just love it,” Paniagua said. “It’s like every week they say, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever had.’”

Simple changes, like using low-fat Greek yogurt in smoothies rather than other sugary kinds, are simple ways for kids to eat better, Paniagua said. One of her students started making spinach salads for his family, which they all seem to love.

“That’s a huge deal to them,” Paniagua said. “The good news is they take this home to their parents, which is awesome.”

That’s one of the major goals of SNAC, according to Liberty Elementary Principal Cindy Duncan, who said a lot of parents simply don’t know that healthy meals can be easy to make. The program, she said, is free for the schools and allows kids to voluntarily learn more about nutrition and pass that knowledge to their families. The Liberty SNAC club usually does lunch tastings—Duncan said they recently made pumpkin custard—and they’re currently building a garden.

“You always see kids running around with their chip bags,” Duncan said, “but we have all these parents who are very, very busy. And it’s easy to grab something unhealthy in a pinch.”


Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash wrote this week’s School Scene. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at mail@santamariasun.com.

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