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UCCE equips Californians to stretch their food budgets

The Issue

During the past four years an estimated 3.8 million California adults could not afford to put sufficient food on the table. California is one of the states hit hardest by the economic downturn; unemployment rates increased from 5.3 percent in 2007 to 11.3 percent in 2009. Adjusted median household income decreased by nearly 5 percent (2009- 2010) and the poverty rate (2007- 2009) rose faster than the national level. In addition, participation in CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) increased 6.8 percent from 2011 to 2012, significantly higher than the national increase of 2.9 percent. Add to this rising food costs of 4 percent (in 2011) and the results translate to significant increases in food insecurity, which is defined as not having enough food to ensure a balanced diet. Food insecure households are at greater risk for physical and mental health problems, such as depression, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Although many of these families receive supplemental food assistance monies, they lack the skills to put their food budgets to maximum use.

What Has ANR Done?

Educating low-income families in food selection and resource management skills can decrease the risk of food insecurity. Therefore the University of California CalFresh Nutrition Education Program (UC CalFresh) has made this a priority. UC CalFresh curriculum, called "Plan, Shop, Save and Cook," provides participants the concrete food resource management skills needed to improve their food security status while making more healthful choices. The first workshop educates adults on the benefits of preparing a balanced meal plan. To do this, they learn how to build meals around store specials, foods on-hand and leftovers, while including family favorites. Skills needed to make a shopping list are introduced as the next step.

During the second workshop, participants explore a variety of nutrition facts labels and learn how to make the best choices while shopping. The third workshop teaches how to determine the least expensive food, while purchasing items with a shopping list. Unit pricing, bulk purchases, generic brands, convenience items, alternative protein sources and preventing spoilage and waste are covered. During the final workshop participants prepare and taste low-cost nutritious foods. They practice all of the skills they have learned by creating a one-week meal plan.

The Payoff

UCCE program reduces food insecurity

This approach to food resource management has been beneficial to many Californians. Pre-post surveys of 1,373 participants statewide in 2011-2012 documented increased use of smart-shopping behaviors: 46 percent improved in meal planning; 43 percent, in using a shopping list; and 36 percent, in comparing prices. Health behaviors also improved as a result of the classes: 40 percent thought more frequently about healthy food choices; 54 percent used a food label more often; and 38 percent prepared more varied meals. Most notable however is that 33 percent of participants reported they run out of food by the end of the month less often.

Clientele Testimonial

“We really appreciate the value you bring to our program. The clients learn valuable concepts and always enjoy the food as well. We look forward to another class in the near future.” Jeff Brehmer, Food Services Director, Cache Creek Lodge in Woodland.


Supporting Unit: Yolo County

Dorothy Smith, dorsmith@ucanr.edu, (209) 754-6476
Marcel Horowitz, mhorowitz@ucanr.edu, (530) 666-8722