For this National Nutrition Month®, we explore why nutrition is important— and how building a healthy plate can be more attainable for everyone!
March 15, 2021
In the stress of parenting, working, and challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, finding time to make healthy meals can feel like a daunting task— especially for families of lower-income. Though it is these residents who face significant barriers to accessing quality food ingredients, WIC Program nutritionists like Valerie Peterson can help alleviate those roadblocks.
What does a nutritious plate look like, and why is it important?
A standard nutritious plate is filled with fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains, and paired with a glass of water or milk, according to the USDA’s MyPlate program. Valerie Peterson, who has worked in the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center’s WIC Department for a total of 25 years, said those nutrients go beyond just one meal.
“The role that nutrition plays is bigger than what most people think,” said Peterson. “It’s important for everyone to be eating well for their next generations.”
Studies of epigenetics— how behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way one’s genes work— show that poor nutrition can affect the health of future generations. Yet simply choosing to eat healthier isn’t an option for most families, Peterson said. Systemic and societal roadblocks increase the growth of food insecurity and food deserts, making it harder for lower-income families to afford and even access healthier foods.
What gets in the way of accessing healthy foods?
Residents who bus or walk to a store may be restricted to carrying a lighter load of items home, or have less time to search for healthier options, Peterson said, and some corner stores that are closer to home have more expensive prices than the bigger named grocery stores across town.
All the extra steps that go into getting healthier foods can add up, draining a mom’s energy levels in the short term and impacting the whole family in the long term, Peterson said.
“A lot of the things that happen with nutrition aren’t so instant or dramatic— it could take years,” she said. “You’re not able to carry gallons of milk home all the time, so you skip the milk because it’s heavy, and then down the road you get osteoporosis, or the kids get rickets.”
How does WIC help knock down some of these barriers?
The WIC food packages are designed around mother and children’s vitamin and mineral needs. WIC nutritionists recognize the barriers that increase the food insecurity families face, and keep them in mind as they speak with residents in nutrition appointments.
In a WIC package, participants will get milk for calcium and minerals, beans and peanut butter for protein, canned tuna and salmon for breastfeeding moms to get more protein, eggs for protein, and juice for Vitamin C. In WIC appointments, nutritionists create a space for moms to ask any questions they have on their minds; How can I feel more confident while breastfeeding? What’s the best thing to feed my toddler? What’s the best way to cook vegetables so my kids will eat them?
Peterson said directs WIC participants to resources like the Sixteenth Street Healthy Choices Program or YouTube videos that can help them learn tips and tricks to cook nutritious meals.
Still, she thinks big changes are needed to break down the barriers that stop low-income individuals from accessing healthy foods. “We need policy changes in the United States,” she said.
Starter tips for Personalizing your Plate
- Try to eat a variety of nutritious foods each day, including healthy foods from all food groups.
- Hydrate healthily with water.
- Taking a minute to read Nutrition Facts Panels on items you frequently have in the house.
- Plan your meals each week, and learn skills to create new tasty meals!
- Use a grocery list to shop for healthful foods available on your EBT card.
- Ask for healthy recipes from friends and family, or find some online and dedicate a night to cooking one as a family if possible.
- Don’t be afraid to try new flavors and foods!
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This health center receives HHS funding and has Federal Public Health Service (PHS) deemed status with respect to certain health or health-related claims, including medical malpractice claims, for itself and its covered individuals.