Merced County Cooperative Extension
Merced County Cooperative Extension
Merced County Cooperative Extension
University of California
Merced County Cooperative Extension

Posts Tagged: nutrition

Teaching Kitchen course helps improve college students’ food security

One approach to address food insecurity at UC Berkeley is a course on Personal Food Security and Wellness, with a Teaching Kitchen component that brings the lessons to life through knife skills, “no-cook” cooking, microwave cooking and sheet pan meals. Photo by Jim Block

Cooperative Extension researcher: Nutrition course a boon for UC Berkeley students

College students across the nation are struggling to meet their basic food needs. Within the University of California system of 280,000 students, 38% of undergraduate students and 20% of graduate students report food insecurity.

As part of the UC Global Food Initiative, in 2015 the Nutrition Policy Institute (a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide research center) identified student food insecurity as a UC systemwide problem, prompting the UC Regents and campuses to collectively address the issue.

All 10 UC campuses now have on-site basic needs centers, providing food, emergency housing and support services. The UC system and campus working groups recognize that meeting basic needs, such as food, is a multidimensional challenge.

In response to the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which called for national efforts to reduce diet-related disease and food insecurity, UC renewed their commitment to cut the proportion of students facing food insecurity in half by 2030. Campuses will partner with local counties to maximize enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as CalFresh in California), provide food for students who do not qualify for CalFresh, and allocate campus food resources to historically underserved student populations.

In evaluating the UC Berkeley course, Susana Matias, a Cooperative Extension specialist and collaborative researcher with the Nutrition Policy Institute, found a significant decrease in student food insecurity. Photo by Jim Block

NPI's collaborative researchers continue to monitor the impact of these efforts, in addition to other interventions, such as supporting students in building basic culinary skills, to improve food security. One multipronged approach to address food insecurity at UC Berkeley is a 14-week course on Personal Food Security and Wellness with a Teaching Kitchen laboratory component.

Sarah Minkow, who teaches the Personal Food Security and Wellness course at UC Berkeley, shared that students learn about nutrition and gain culinary skills through the Cal Teaching Kitchen.

The curriculum is designed with consideration for the time, cost and convenience of healthy eating. Discussions include food safety, calculating nutrient needs, mindful eating and reading nutrition labels. The Teaching Kitchen laboratory brings the lessons to life through knife skills, “no-cook” cooking, microwave cooking and sheet pan meals.

Minkow enthusiastically highlighted her students' “overwhelmingly positive [response to the] lecture and lab,” suggesting the benefits of an interactive learning environment to garner student engagement.

“Students often give feedback that they wish this was a required course for all UC Berkeley students,” said Minkow. She noted one barrier to reaching more students: capacity of the Teaching Kitchen space.

Susana Matias, a Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology and collaborative researcher with the NPI, evaluated the impact of the Personal Food Security and Wellness course at UC Berkeley.

Matias reported that increasing food literacy and culinary skills among students has shown to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, and frequency of cooking, and reduce the number of skipped meals. Her study on the impact of the 14-week nutrition course also found a significant decrease in student food insecurity.

Across the UC System, students are benefiting from their campus Teaching Kitchens, including UC BerkeleyUC DavisUCLA and UC Riverside. Other campuses such as UC San DiegoUC San FranciscoUC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara offer basic student cooking classes as well.

Katherine Lanca, UC Global Food Initiative fellow working with NPI, attended the 2022 Teaching Kitchen Research Conference as part of her fellowship to learn about the latest research on teaching kitchens supporting equitable health outcomes.

The conference was hosted at UCLA by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Department of Nutrition in association with the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative. Teaching kitchens are a promising approach to supporting food security and cultivating lifelong habits, especially among a college student population.

Posted on Monday, December 5, 2022 at 9:47 AM
  • Author: Katherine Lanca, UC Global Food Initiative Fellow, UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute
Focus Area Tags: Food, Health, Innovation

Families stretch food dollars with tips from UCCE nutrition educators

Reading food product labels to choose items that are nutrient-rich is one way to get more bang for the buck.

Consumers save over $41 a month after attending UC Cooperative Extension nutrition workshops

Consumers have seen their grocery bills rising over the last few months. To save money, buying store or generic brands and preparing meals at home are a couple of ways to adapt in the short term, according to UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators.

UCCE nutrition educators offer tips and workshops to help families participating in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC program. With the information, the families are better able to make their food dollars last all month.

“After attending the workshop series, households across California were finding a savings of over $41 a month,” said Natalie Price, UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor in Los Angeles County.

Through a series of workshops and informational fliers, participating households have had success in reducing their food bill, improving healthy food knowledge, and improving food safety.

Currently UCCE offers EFNEP and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC lessons in 40 out of the 58 California counties. From Del Norte to San Diego County, nutrition educators are working with families to improve their diet quality and physical activity through a series of workshops available to eligible households. In a series of six to nine one-hour classes, families learn how to buy, store and prepare healthy, safe and nutritious food.

The EFNEP classes held throughout the state reach, on average, more than 17,000 participants, including attendees and household members of attendees. After taking the class, one participant said, “Before I only bought what was on sale, but now I have a shopping list. I have a menu of the week and I always look at the ingredients.”

Throughout much of the pandemic, UCCE classes have been offered online to reach families throughout Los Angeles County. At the end of the classes, all participants receive a certificate of completion. Photo by Natalie Price

Science-based nutrition information consistently ranks as one of the top areas of interest among the public, and these programs represent one of the premier opportunities to reach Californians with relevant resources.

“Over 90% of our program graduates reported (in post-class surveys) improved food resource management skills such as planning meals, making a shopping list, and comparing food prices, which has resulted in $19 to $64 grocery bill savings per month,” said Marisa Neelon, UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Knowing what to buy, how to prepare and what to eat are key to help households improve both costs and nutrition. As one participant commented, “[I make] a list before I go shopping and planning what I will cook to avoid overspending.” Knowing what to buy, how to prepare and what to eat are key to help households improve both costs and nutrition.

This success has been replicated in other counties and translated into major savings for families at the grocery store. These savings can add up and make a significant impact, especially in the current environment of rising food prices.

The UCCE nutrition educators shared their top tips to save money on food:

  • Check the grocery flyers for the food sales
  • Make weekly menus of the food needed for your family meals and snacks
  • Buy store or generic brands instead of national brands
  • Read food labels to choose items that are nutrient rich
  • Purchase canned and frozen foods along with fresh items

Check the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC or EFNEP webpages for nutrition education programs offered for eligible Californians in counties across the state.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has a list of online resources for anyone interested in becoming more active and eating healthier at

Posted on Friday, June 10, 2022 at 1:57 PM
  • Author: Conor McCabe, Global Food Initiative fellow
Focus Area Tags: Family, Food

Should there be more microbes on your plate?

Should there be a recommended daily intake of friendly microbes, often found in foods such as kimchi and yogurt? For the first time, scientists have measured the amount of friendly microbes in the food Americans eat. Photo by Leah Mytchyk on Unsplash

Scientists make the first large-scale estimate of live microorganisms consumed in the U.S. diet

Our diets provide us with the building blocks we need to stay healthy and fight disease. The nutrients in foods and beverages can be tallied up to know if we are getting what our bodies need. Yet what if a nutrient has been overlooked? For instance, friendly microbes in raw and fermented foods have not been measured as part of our diets — until now.

“Ultimately we want to understand if there should be a recommended daily intake of these microbes to keep us healthy, either through the foods or from probiotic supplements,” said Maria Marco, a professor in the food science and technology department at UC Davis. “In order to do that, we need to first quantify the number of live microorganisms we consume today in our diets.”

Marco co-authored a new study with a group of scientists that examined the number of living microbes per gram of more than 9,000 different foods consumed by nearly 75,000 adults and children. It found that around 20% of children and 26% of adults consumed foods with high levels of live microorganisms in their diet. Both children and adults increased their consumption of these foods over the 18-year study period. The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, is the first large-scale estimate of how many live microbes are consumed by Americans every day.

“This trend is going in the right direction. Exposure to friendly microorganisms in our foods can be good for promoting a healthy immune system.” said Marco.

Foods for gut health

Study authors examined the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to create the estimate. The health and dietary database contains extensive information on the foods consumed by Americans daily. Food science and fermentation experts assigned each food an estimated range of live microbes per gram, creating categories of foods with low, medium and high levels of live microbes. Foods in the high category included fermented dairy foods such as yogurt, fermented pickles and kimchi. Fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables were also good sources of live microorganisms, represented in the medium category.

The analysis was funded by a grant from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, or ISAPP. The microorganisms quantified in this study are not necessarily probiotics.

“By definition, a probiotic must be well-defined and have a demonstrated health benefit at a quantified dose. Live microbes associated with food as a category, however, do not generally meet the criteria of a probiotic,” said corresponding author Mary Ellen Sanders, executive science officer for the ISAPP.

The publication is part of a larger global effort to determine how live dietary microbes might contribute to health.

“There is no doubt that the microbes we eat affect our health. When we think of microbes in our food, we often think of either foodborne pathogens that cause disease or probiotics that provide a documented health benefit,” said co-author Colin Hill, a professor of microbial food safety with University College Cork, Ireland. “But it's important to also explore dietary microbes that we consume in fermented and uncooked foods. It is very timely to estimate the daily intake of microbes by individuals in modern society as a first step towards a scientific evaluation of the importance of dietary microbes in human health and well-being.”

Other scientists co-authoring the paper were ISAPP board members Robert Hutkins, Dan Merenstein, Daniel J. Tancredi, Christopher J. Cifelli, Jaime Gahche, Joanne L. Slavin and Victor L. Fulgoni III.

Editor's note: Maria Marco is affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as an Agricultural Experiment Station faculty member.

Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at 4:19 PM
  • Author: Amy Quinton, UC Davis
Focus Area Tags: Food, Health

Facebook Live highlights ways to find healthy foods that work for your body

Half of our plates should be made up of fruits and vegetables for a healthful diet, according to UC ANR nutrition experts. Photo by Sam Moqadam, Unsplash

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources recently held a nutrition Facebook Live webinar on how to find healthy food options that fit your lifestyle. Over the lunch break on April 7, participants heard from three UC ANR nutrition experts:

The conversation began with Miramontes and Ramirez discussing the MyPlate nutrition plan, in which participants balance each meal with parts of each food group.

“Half of your plate should be made up of fruits and vegetables, but it's not a one-size-fits-all, as children and adults need different amounts of these foods,” said Ramirez.

The nutrition educators then highlighted choices from each of the food groups that are better choices than others for health.

“When choosing a protein source, make sure to look for low-fat meat options (i.e. grilled chicken instead of fried chicken) to reduce calorie intake,” Miramontes said. “Or try unsalted over salted nuts to cut down processed foods and sodium intake.”

Nutrition educator Javier Miramontes discussed protein food choices for your best overall health.

As a follow-up, Blackburn addressed the tensions between a healthy diet and individuals' food intolerances and food allergies.

“A food allergy is when a food activates the person's immune system, whereas a food intolerance means someone will have difficulty digesting a food,” she explained.

People can have intolerances to foods from all across the MyPlate groups, including foods such as whole wheat bread, peanuts and tomatoes. This issue appears to be a growing problem, as Blackburn noted that “every year we see the number of (food intolerance) cases increasing and the number of foods belonging to these categories increasing.”

“We must take matters into our own hands,” Blackburn continued, “by selectively choosing foods and see how our bodies respond; if you find yourself consistently bloated after consuming a meal, it may be best practice to limit one of those foods for some time, and then see how your body responds.”

Blackburn described how individuals – by becoming their own body's scientists – can experiment with adding and removing different foods and seeing how their body responds.

Clockwise from left, Javier Miramontes, Mary Blackburn and Aba Ramirez. The nutrition educators answered audience members' questions at the end of the presentation.

Audience members were invited to ask questions of the speakers and to learn more about what they could do to achieve their own healthy food and nutrition goals.

A full recording of the webinar with captions is on Facebook. To date, the video has been viewed more than 23,000 times. Look for future UC ANR Facebook Lives on the UC ANR Facebook page that highlight the great work Extension educators are doing around California.


Posted on Friday, April 15, 2022 at 12:08 PM
  • Author: Conor McCabe
Focus Area Tags: Food

Study: Government shutdown stressed food assistance program participants

Uncertainty caused by a government shutdown adds to the stress of people grappling with food insecurity. Photo by Evett Kilmartin

A U.S. federal government shutdown can represent a minor inconvenience, a delay in paychecks, or – for people living in some of the most difficult circumstances – an extended period of hunger and anxiety.

A study published recently in the journal Nutrients provides a unique glimpse into the shutdown experiences of participants in CalFresh – California's name for the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Currently, about 42 million people participate in SNAP across the U.S.

In focus groups conducted in 2019 with 26 low-income CalFresh participants from four diverse California counties, participants shared how the 2018-19 federal government shutdown affected their SNAP benefits, their perception of the program and their faith in government.

One of the immediate effects of the 2018-19 shutdown was that February CalFresh benefits were distributed in January. And while that meant program participants saw extra benefits that month, they then had to wait 40 to 44 days until the March issuance – much longer than the usual 28 to 31 day cycle.

“What we saw with this study is that this extended lag in benefit receipt from January to March was devastating,” said Wendi Gosliner, senior researcher and policy advisor at the Nutrition Policy Institute of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and an author of the study funded by UC ANR.

She recalled one participant who, despite having a gastrointestinal issue that requires a special diet, had to eat canned food from the food bank that made her sick – rather than go hungry while waiting for her March benefits. Others described cascading financial challenges after using rent money for food in February, or going into debt to pay for food and getting behind on other expenses.

The study also chronicles the experiences of a woman who was anguished to hear the suffering of her daughter, also a CalFresh participant: “She called me several times crying, ‘Ma, I don't – we don't have enough food. What am I going to do…? You know, I can't afford to this and this and this.' And I can't help her.”

For individuals grappling with food insecurity, the stress of feeding their families was compounded by the uncertainties of the government shutdown. And while many participants exercised their agency and resourcefulness in coping with the situation, they also felt a degree of powerlessness amid the “confusion and craziness,” as one person put it.

“No one knew how long that shutdown was going to last; no one knew if the March benefits were going to be paid,” Gosliner said. “And as we learned, there were all kinds of stories circulating out there about what was going on with the uncertainty – a lot of people didn't have the information about what was actually happening.”

Some participants, seeing the “double benefit” in January 2019, thought that it was the last-ever distribution and that SNAP was ending. Others described being unable to get in touch with the CalFresh agency to get their questions answered about the benefits. Most participants had not heard about the disrupted benefit schedule before receiving the benefits. As a result, many people in the focus groups shared that their overall faith in government had been shaken.

Improving customer service, boosting benefit levels and adjusting eligibility and benefit formulas to reflect high cost-of-living and expenses related to working were three recommendations that came from the focus group participants.

A fourth recommendation tackles the shutdown issue head-on: Don't let it happen again.

“Congress should do absolutely everything in their power to be sure that the program operates on the usual time schedule – even if the government is shut down,” Gosliner said.

In the context of the global pandemic, when financial and social inequities and physical and mental health disparities have been laid bare, ensuring access to healthful food is even more important. And with studies showing that hospitalizations increase with longer lags between SNAP distributions, Gosliner said the “absolute last thing” the overburdened health system needs is more people in emergency departments seeking acute care.

“It's the worst time to be having people who need money to feed their families face additional insecurity,” she said. “It's critically important that Congress acts to be sure that there is not any disruption in benefits.”

The authors of the study, “Participants' Experiences of the 2018–2019 Government Shutdown and Subsequent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefit Disruption Can Inform Future Policy,” are Wendi Gosliner, Wei-Ting Chen, Cathryn Johnson, Elsa Michelle Esparza, Natalie Price, Ken Hecht and Lorrene Ritchie.

The study can be found online at

Posted on Thursday, September 30, 2021 at 3:24 PM
Focus Area Tags: Family, Food, Health

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