Nutrition classes make for healthy habits
When Ingrid Escobar goes grocery shopping these days, she stays away from the soda aisle.
The mother of two also avoids sugar-laden foods, and puts a limit on bread when shopping for her two young children.
“I think about everything I buy now, and everything we cook and eat at home,” said Escobar, who recently completed a nutrition education program offered at Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments, where she lives.
Escobar was one of a half-dozen women and men who completed the six-week program with an instructor from the University of Massachusetts Extension Service. Nutrition educator Antonia Ramos visited Sullivan once per week, giving a variety of lessons and cooking up healthy snacks and meals to share with the group.
Ramos targeted any specific health issues among those in the class, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and suggested foods that will lead to better health. She also put the focus on overall good eating habits like staying away from junk food, or items high in sugar, salt, and calories.
“Each participant set goals for shopping, cooking and eating, and for exercising,” Ramos said. “Then we worked on things that will head them in the right direction. For exercise, we started with at least 150 steps a day and built up from there.”
The program came courtesy of Talk/Read/Succeed!, the family-based early literacy program at three SHA developments that promotes positive skills and activities for both young and old.
Zenaida Burgos, who is SHA’s program coordinator for T/R/S! at Sullivan, also participated in the nutrition classes. She said the enthusiasm level was at a high with this class.
“Everyone got into it and really committed to changing their shopping and eating habits,” Burgos said. “It was a nice chance to get together socially, meet your neighbors, and also concentrate on good health and positive ways to make your family healthier.”
The SHA has an ongoing relationship with the UMass Extension Services, with classes and information on a variety of issues.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said the partnership is a good one, providing training and hands-on sessions for residents seeking to improve their lives.
“This is one example of how residents can learn to do more positive things for themselves and for their families,” Jordan said.
For Escobar and others, the program meant a change in how she approaches food for the family.
“I joined the course because I wanted to know more about nutrition and health,” said Escobar. “Now, we’re eating a lot more fruits and vegetables and avoiding things like salty foods, soda, sugar and bread. I’ve cut down on my carbs and I try to get out and take a walk every day.”
Angel Vazquez, who has one daughter, said he can already see the benefits to taking the nutrition course.
“It definitely helped,” he said. “It made me think a lot about the kinds of foods I was eating. Before, I was buying a lot of things I could just put in the microwave. Now, I’m buying things that are better for me.”
Zuleyka Sierra agreed, saying she is shopping and cooking smarter now, for herself and her daughter.
“I feel food smart now,” she said. “I wanted advice on learning how to eat healthier. I was eating a lot of junk food. Now, I’m eating healthy foods and exercising. I’ve already lost weight.”
Among regular items on her new diet are fruits and vegetables, especially strawberries, grapes, bananas, squash and kale, which her daughter also loves.
Participants celebrated with a healthy meal made with low-fat and low-salt ingredients, certificates, and a few gifts to take home including a healthy cookbook, measuring utensils, a vegetable slicer, a water bottle, a shopping bag and a step counter.
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