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K-State Today

October 18, 2011

Nutrition is key to helping low income families beat hunger

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

For Thanksgiving this year, Guillermina Flores plans to forego turkey in favor of tamales, a favorite food in her native Mexico. In the Hispanic culture, tamales are hard to beat for flavor and tradition.

And this year, Bertha Mendoza will help Flores make tamales that are healthier, and cost less.

Lard has traditionally been used to make tamales, said Mendoza, who teaches classes in K-State Research and Extension's Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

"We try to educate people now that it's not good for them. We've switched to oil and one of the things we do is we prepare those recipes in classes so they can see it. They can take it home and make it," Mendoza said.

Tamales are a corn-based dough in a leaf wrapper and filled with meat, chili, cheese or vegetables. Pork is typically the meat of choice, but on Mendoza's recommendation, Flores is going to try the less-expensive chicken this year. 

"If you watch the sales, you can buy chicken ahead of time and save a lot of money," Mendoza said.

Mendoza, a native of Chihuaha, Mexico, has worked at the K-State Research-Extension Center in Garden City since 2010. In about 12 months, she's graduated 53 residents – all Spanish-speaking – from the 12-course Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

One of those is Veronica Castro, who has become something of an advocate for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program to the local Hispanic community.

"People come to her house and taste the food that she's making…they like it and she says here's the program if you want to participate," Mendoza said. "I'm really impressed at how the Hispanic community has been affected in a positive way and how they like to recommend us."

It's an easy sell for Castro and her family: "Eating healthy meals is expensive, but throughout these classes, we have learned that we can eat healthy despite having a low budget. Mendoza understands what we like to eat. She can help us eat more healthy, while continuing to eat what we want to eat."

By the end of 2011, Mendoza says she will have graduated 80 residents from Expanded Food and Nutrition Education classes. She has a waiting list of people for the classes, and is working to find more funding to expand K-State's offerings in Garden City. For instance, Mendoza knows she can help residents with diabetes or heart disease. 

Based on what they learned in the classes, some students changed their eating habits and started exercising.

"So their second visit to the doctor was very nice. As long as you keep doing what you're doing, you won't have to be on medication. It's really exciting to know that; it is a success story," Mendoza said.

Hospital staff in Garden City have begun recommending the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program to patients, particularly those with diabetes or heart disease.

"I'm already worried, how am I going to be able to address all these people?" Mendoza said. "Somehow I have to serve them, especially the ones in higher need, because diabetes is increasing, the number of people with heart problems is increasing."