The global pandemic has made it harder for everyone to meet and learn in person-including the many Washington parents and caregivers who need help ensuring their families have tasty, healthy food to eat.
WSU Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) has stepped up by innovating an online format for its weekly classes.
EFNEP is designed to help adults taking care of kids improve physical activity, diet quality, and food resource management. It’s a valuable program, but a difficult one to transition to an online environment.
“In normal times, we have nine lessons that include hands-on cooking demonstrations, a research-based curriculum, and lots of personal interaction,” said Kylie Pybus, EFNEP supervisor in Spokane County.
Classes are normally held at host organizations, including Frontier Behavioral Health in Spokane.
The Washington program has now adapted an online format that features six sessions that can be joined by computer, cell phone, or tablet from a person’s home. The EFNEP team has partnered with Frontier’s North Pines office to deliver the virtual course, taught by EFNEP educator Patty Freeland.
“We love meeting with class participants, so we really miss the face-to-face aspect and watching people learn new skills in-person,” Pybus said. “Though it’s not the same, the virtual classes allow for our instructors to interact with the class and answer questions.”
They aren’t doing pre-recorded classes, since too much information and participant engagement is lost, she said.
In a typical in-person class, an instructor would lead the class in a cooking lesson. The entire class cooked, while the instructor offered tips and help. Participants prepared and tasted the recipes together, getting to know each other and sharing what they learned, said Alicia Santoro, a peer support specialist with Frontier.
Online classes not only teach how to prepare a healthy meal, but are also a social opportunity for people who may need a break from loneliness or need adult conversation.
“What we eat affects our mental health, so the class teaches that eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is important for mood regulation,” Santoro said. “The class also promotes exercise, which is another way to promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Feedback has been positive so far, despite the limitations.
“They obviously miss that in-person touch,” Pybus said. “But we’re still making a difference and helping people in the best way we can.”
Participants are referred to EFNEP courses by host organizations. Santoro and her peers at Frontier are also helping link families to the resource. Classes will remain online until it’s safe to return to the in-person format.