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Maureen McMullen, Published September 13 2013

NDSU Extension stresses importance of nutrition education

FARGO – When Ella Weller’s grandmother died from complications with diabetes in 2005, she realized she had to take control of her own health through a healthy diet.

But for Weller and thousands of other North Dakotans like her who receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, it can be difficult to stretch a limited budget to include healthy food.

Since April, Weller and others from the day program at Community Options, an organization that helps people with disabilities, have attended weekly healthy cooking classes sponsored by the Family Nutrition Program.

Weller said the nutrition assistance program, which is under the NDSU Extension Service, has given her the courage to become healthier and lose weight.

“Ever since I started coming here I‘ve been learning how to eat right, coming home and making food, having small portions,” said Weller, who has lost nearly 40 pounds with the program’s assistance. “It’s been helping me so much.”

The program focuses on educating North Dakotans about SNAP, the food stamp program, and teaches them to budget a healthy diet and to maximize their money and food.

“For people who are on a limited budget, buying healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and proteins is hard; it can wipe out the budget,” said Michelle Strang, an NDSU Extension agent who teaches the class that meets in the basement of the Cass County Annex, 1010 2nd Ave. S. “It’s definitely cheaper to cook at home, but if you don’t know how, there’s not much you can do.”

The group also meets each week for a trip to the grocery store guided by Strang. She teaches participants how to shop for food that is good for their bodies and budgets.

Some of the pointers Strang offers participants include how to read nutrition labels, how to shop from recipes and how to find food with the best nutritional and frugal value.

After these grocery trips, Strang works with participants to teach them how to prepare a healthy meal with what they bought by using healthy recipes such as chicken strips crusted with pecans, and parmesan French fries that are baked instead of fried.

On Friday, the class welcomed Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who said she supports the Senate farm bill, which authorized funding for the SNAP program.

The Senate passed a farm bill that includes funding for farm programs and SNAP. The House passed a farm bill that only includes funding for farm programs.

The Senate-passed bill included $4 billion cuts to the SNAP program. A House bill that sought $20 billion in SNAP cuts failed before the House later passed a bill that didn’t include the food stamp program.

“There’s not enough money to buy produce and protein,” Sen. Heitkamp said of SNAP. “If you talk to the nutritionists, they’ll tell you that it’s such a myth that, per value of the food, proteins and vegetables are not any more expensive than processed foods.”

The classes Weller attends are just one resource offered by the Family Nutrition Program. It also offers other types of assistance to low-income recipients, refugees and schools with high rates of students who receive free- or reduced-price lunch.

Heitkamp said congress needs to pass a farm bill by Sept. 30 to avoid expiration of agriculture and nutrition program.