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Sarah Johnson, UW-Extension nutrition educator, tells Family Table participants about the benefits of using eggs as a protein source. Johnson said eggs are a cheaper option for providing healthy protein.

Families learn nutrition

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Every Thursday through Dec. 6, four families are meeting in the Somerset Middle School foods classroom to learn about healthy eating on a budget.

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These people are participating in WestCAP's (West Central Wisconsin Community Action Agency) Family Table program. Family Table is holding eight-week fall sessions for low-income families in several locations in St. Croix County, said Robyn Thibado, WestCAP social assets director.

Thibado said participants eat a healthy snack, have a nutrition lesson and then learn to cook a meal, hands-on.

"Family Table is about making healthy eating fun and easy," Thibado said.

Family Table is a program WestCAP developed and piloted in 2009. Previously the program was focused more on providing food to families than on teaching them to improve their own nutrition and cook healthy meals, Thibado said. However, Thibado said the program was revamped this fall.

The previous program allowed people, mostly mothers, to cook a large batch of healthy food to bring home to their families. The idea was to help low-income families access healthy food.

Family Table's current program focuses more on nutrition education.

"Giving families the educational background to use what's available in their kitchen and to use lower-cost options other than processed foods is probably one of the biggest goals, I would say, of the program," said Sam Clair, an Americorp VISTA who works with the Family Table program for WestCAP.

Although participating families still make a meal, they make only enough for one meal, as opposed to the larger batches of the previous program. One reason for this, Thibado said, was the batch cooking was too expensive to sustainably support. She also said focusing on healthy eating is important because it is such a big issue right now, especially as it relates to obesity and childhood obesity.

"You are less healthy, you live a shorter life and you're more likely to be obese, the lower income you have," Thibado said. "And that's simply because the cheap food is generally the least healthy type of food."

Sarah Johnson, nutrition educator for UW-Extension in Pierce and St. Croix counties, said eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains is an important part of eating healthier.

"I want the community to be healthy, the current adults and the children who will be adults someday," Johnson said. "I want to help people use the resources that they have to make healthy meals for their families, whatever economic level they are at."

However, it is possible to eat healthier on a budget, which is part of why Family Table is such an important program, Thibado said.

"A lot of times people think fruits and vegetables are really expensive or cooking from scratch is really expensive," Thibado said. "We are trying to show that it's not truly expensive."

Thibado said people can start by buying fruit in season and buying leaner proteins such as beans instead of meat. Another way Family Table encourages participants to eat heathier is by shopping "around the edges" of the grocery store.

In addition to teaching families to cook healthy foods, Family Table gives families a chance to sit down and eat a meal together. That's something Thibado said is very important.

"When families eat together, studies have shown that kids are less likely to get into other kinds of trouble," Thibado said.

Thibado said Family Table follows the Food and Drug Administation's new "My Plate" nutrition guide, which replaced the food pyramid. My Plate recommends people fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables and the other half with grain and protein. More detailed information can be seen at www.choosemyplate.gov.

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Gretta Stark
Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.
(715) 426-1048
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