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UC CalFresh Program Excited Student Interest at Torres Martinez Tribal TANF

The Issue

Forty percent of Coachella Valley children aged 2 to 17 are overweight or obese (2013, harcdata.org). Located in a remote area with limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables, the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Reservation covers 24,024 acres of desert spanning part of Coachella Valley and Imperial County, with an estimated population of 4,000. The tribal headquarters, in the unincorporated community of Thermal, is the location of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF is charged with providing assistance and social support to families with children on the reservation. TANF Family Preservation Services, Youth Division was interested in nutrition education that would help children develop good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle.

What Has ANR Done?

The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Riverside County teamed up with a tribal education guidance counselor to offer a summer enrichment program that teaches youth about healthy foods. A series of nutrition classes for 1st and 2nd graders was offered six times during a three-week period in August 2016. A UC CalFresh nutrition educator trained the counselor to teach the “Good for Me and You!” curriculum and helped plan the classes. The classes were held in the tribal hall and with funds provided by TANF's Family Preservation Services, the children received a healthy snack and a full lunch with each class. Youth learned how to make healthy recipes such as whole-wheat tortas. After the series of lessons concluded, the UC CalFresh Educator conducted a review of MyPlate with a short physical activity break. The group also played a spinning-wheel game where they named fruits and vegetables. The nutrition classes were promoted as the first in a series of healthy living sessions for TANF children and their families.

The Payoff

After the program, tribal children wanted more nutrition activities

While the program began with six students, it quickly grew to thirteen as the children brought friends and relatives. At the last class, a brief evaluation revealed that the children recognized MyPlate and were able to name and sort food models into appropriate groups. The children also indicated that they need to eat from all of the food groups, especially fruits and vegetables, to stay healthy. Lastly, they learned that keeping food safe is “good for me and you”. The importance of food safety was illustrated by youth cleaning their hands at the table before and after meals, to “get rid of germs”.

The children enjoyed coming to these classes. Most indicated that trying new foods was their favorite part. The TANF Family Preservation Services manager said the program was so successful that the children were requesting more classes. Six months after the last class the attendees still knew all of the food groups on MyPlate. Several mentioned that they are now interested in nutrition as a profession. Plans are being developed to offer another nutrition enrichment program to tribal youth in 2017. UC CalFresh is currently working with the counselor to develop culturally appropriate nutrition information for their parents.


Supporting Unit: Riverside County

UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program
Chutima Ganthavorn, NFCS Advisor, cganthavorn@ucanr.edu
Marlyn Pulido, UC CalFresh Educator, mpulido@ucanr.edu
Andra Nicoli, UC CalFresh State Office, amnicoli@ucdavis.edu