According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 15 million households in the country are food insecure. These are people who live without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food.
One pediatrician has teamed up with nonprofits to help change that, and help bring nutritious eating habits to those in need. The produce packs project will give people free fresh produce, along with the information they need regarding healthy eating. It’s a program that is having success in her local area, but can easily be replicated around the country.
“We have a dire need for families to have access to nutritious foods, but many are not able to get it on a regular basis,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “This proven program introduces them to a new way of eating and helps lay the foundation for raising healthy kids.”
Dr. Yum is helping to address some of the health and nutritional problems the area faces. She explains that overweight children tend to become overweight adults, and many families are no longer preparing foods at home. The produce pack program helps to fight obesity by giving people healthy and nutritious foods to eat, as well as education on how to prepare the foods.
A joint collaboration, the Dr. Yum Project, Virginia Community Food Connections, and the local WIC offices have secured a grant for the project through the Virginia Department of Health. Each week, produce is delivered to a community kitchen with cold storage capabilities. There are teen volunteers who work on Sunday afternoons to pack cooler bags with a variety of fresh produce provided by local farmers. Each produce pack is then taken to area Health Departments and WIC clinics, where a food tasting is held in the lobby. The produce packs are given out, along with the educational information to WIC clients during their regular visit. The recipients can then take the produce pack to the farmer’s market to have it refilled up to three times for free.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the 2016 Early Care and Education (ECE) State Indicator Report which noted that children who are overweight when they enter kindergarten are four times more likely to struggle with obesity in 8th grade, as compared to their peers who are normal weight, and that childhood weight status often tracks into adulthood. One of the driving forces behind these skyrocketing obesity rates is the heavy reliance on processed food and food prepared outside the home.
“Getting fresh produce into the hands of those who are considered food insecure is a major step in the right direction,” added Heidi DiEugenio, director of the Doctor Yum Project. “They are being introduced to healthy produce, how to prepare it, where they can find it, and why it’s so important for their families. This is a win-win for everyone in the community and we are proud to be a part of it.”
This is a program that Dr. Yum hopes will be replicated in other areas both locally and around the country. In creating such a program they have identified a need, how they can solve the problem, and then developed a process to carry it out. The program is putting nutritious foods and health information into the hands of people who are need.
Dr. Fernando created The Doctor Yum Project, an organization with the mission of transforming the lives of families and communities by providing an understanding of the connection between food and overall health, as well as empowering them with the tools to live a healthy life. The project offers healthy cooking classes, child nutrition classes, cooking camps for kids, hands-on cooking instruction for families, first foods classes, a teaching garden, and online tools to help families make healthier meals. They also offer a preschool nutrition program, with 40 classrooms and almost 600 participating preschoolers.