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K-State Today

May 15, 2012

Distance education program in dietetics gives California alum head start on reforming child nutrition

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Distance education has taken Kristine Smith a long way: to a bachelor's degree in dietetics from Kansas State University to revolutionizing the way young children eat.

Smith earned her degree from the university in 2004 by taking classes online while on duty overseas with the U.S. Navy. She is now the director of nutrition services at San Diego's Neighborhood House Association, where she revamped the daily menu for children in the association's Head Start program. The program provides approximately 6,500 meals each day to children from low-income families.

When Smith started her job in 2008, she was disappointed in and stunned by the foods that the children, who are mostly ages 3 and 4, were being served. The foods were highly processed with an abundance of sodium and fats.

The kitchen she inherited contained no knives, only can openers. The cooks only knew how to use microwaves and ovens. Smith immediately set out to right the situation, purchasing new cooking utensils and retraining her kitchen staff. She said she believes the younger generation deserves the utmost nutritional care.

"Nowhere in my job description does it say that I need to create menus that have whole and natural foods or that I need to feed them in any certain way other than to meet the child care food guidelines from the USDA," Smith said. "But I feel it is my own responsibility to give them the very best that I can give them."

Though convincing all of the children to buy into eating more fruits and vegetables presented some obvious challenges, Smith has kids asking their parents to cook at home what she makes for them in the Head Start program.

"We have a 94 percent kid approval rating now," she said. "The kids go to the grocery store and ask for fresh produce -- they recognize it from what they had at school."

Smith is now focusing her energy on the Farm to Pre-School program, which replaces much of the factory-distributed food in her kitchen with healthy, locally grown foods.

The program will take the children on field trips to the farms where their foods come from, connecting them to the local farming community and introducing them to the idea that food actually grows naturally from the ground and not on grocery store shelves.

Because of her work success and her exemplary representation of Kansas State University, Smith was honored as the university's Division of Continuing Education alumni fellow for 2012. She visited campus in February to attend the alumni fellow ceremonies. While on campus, she noted the attachment she felt to the university and the hospitality of all the K-State faculty, students and staff she encountered.

Smith said that her bachelor's degree in dietetics from Kansas State University has served her well in her career. It has helped her make the right decisions in regard to the health and nutrition of the children she works with, and she would recommend it to anyone.

"This degree in dietetics has made a huge impact on my life. I feed children primarily in Head Start, and those children are from families in the lowest incomes in our community. I feel like when they come to our Head Start centers, they are getting the best meals maybe in their whole lives," she said.

To learn more about Kansas State University's bachelor's degree in dietetics through distance education, visit http://www.dce.k-state.edu/humanecology/dietetics/bachelors.