She'll help make health-friendly meals kind to the budget

Susy Jennings is the program assistant for the Purdue Extension’s Family Nutrition program, which helps low-income families develop a healthy eating plan on a tight budget.
Photo by Andre Laird.

With rising food prices, many families find it difficult to maintain balance when it comes to eating healthy and staying within budget.

In response, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have teamed up with Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service to offer the Family Nutrition Program.

Susy Jennings, program assistant and recent addition to the Huntington County Extension Office staff, says the aim of the program is simple.

"The program is designed for lower income families and focuses on informing families or individuals on how to stretch their budget while still making healthy eating choices," she states.

Prior to coming to the Extension Office, Jennings was a case manager at the Bowen Center and says she enjoyed helping others and filling a need.

"I loved working there because I got to work with individuals and families and make an impact on their lives by connecting them with well-needed resources," she states.
"This program allows me to work in that same capacity."

Jennings joined the Extension Office on March 9.

The Family Nutrition Program provides free, informal and easily accessible educational programs in homes and at various agencies.

"There are several topics that are covered during the program, which also includes demonstrations and hands-on activities," says Jennings.

The program is designed to educate families on how to stretch their food dollars to last the whole month, plan fast and easy meals, find out about food stamps benefits and other community resources, make healthy snacks for children, make vegetables fun and make healthy choices when eating out.

"We follow a curriculum called Small Steps to Health," states Jennings. "The curriculum was designed from research based from USDA ‘Guidelines for Us.'"

One of the things Jennings says the program does is showing participants how to plan meal menus.

"We show people how to use the ingredients they may already have on hand to make creative dishes," she says. "We also distribute handout information on the meal's nutritional value as well as recipes of the dishes we create in class."

Jennings says she has conducted the program with individuals in the Students Out of School program and plans to offer it at the Huntington Free Clinic as well.

"We get referrals for participants from various service organizations, including Family Centered Services and Pathfinder Services," she states. "We also look for places where the classes can be offered as people wait for other services."

Such is the case at the free clinic. An area will be set up where interested patients may participate in the class.
"We are currently looking for similar locations like that one," Jennings adds.

In-home courses are also available to those who would prefer that setting or would not be able to attend the classes otherwise due to scheduling conflicts or time constraints.

"A good example is an individual who I meet with once each week for an hour at a time," states Jennings. "We go through the information and demonstrations in the comfort of the person's home."

Jennings says in working with families through the program, she has found that a lot of them are already resourceful and creative in their menu ideas.

"I also like the class participation, as it allows me to learn things as well," she adds.

According to www.cfs.purdue.edu/extension/food_health, the program is currently available to food stamp recipients in 53 Indiana counties.

Jennings adds that there is a wealth of information that is accessible to anyone, even if they are not involved with the program."

"An excellent Web site that gives information on food and nutrition is www.mypyramid.gov," she states. "It has everything from nutritional facts, recommended daily intake information to interactive tools that can be used to track whether or not you are eating healthy."

Jennings adds that while it is important to eat healthy, the need to exercise regularly should not be overlooked.
"We also stress throughout the program that participants figure out an exercise routine that bests fits in their schedule," she says.

The program is something Jennings holds dear, she adds.

"I've seen families struggle and make unhealthy eating choices," she states. "I would love to see a difference; to see families use their resources to eat more nutritiously and become healthier."

For more information on the program or to contact Jennings, call the Extension Office at 358-4826 or e-mail smjennin@purdue.edu.

The office is located at 354 N Jefferson, Suite 202.