Wazzu program in Kitsap helps trim fat from waistline, budget

Program teaches how to trim fat from food budget and waistline.

Fresh veggies, fruits and a little planning ahead can go a long way in combating thinner wallets and thicker waistlines.

So says Gayle Alleman, program coordinator for Food Sense, a program hosted through Washington State University’s Kitsap County Extension.

The program’s focus is on healthy eating habits, food safety and active lifestyles for both children and adults, with the aim of trimming the fat from food budgets and waistlines.

The major educational emphasis is adding more fruits and vegetables to a daily diet, which will help regulate weight, thereby reducing the risk of chronic disease, Alleman said.

Based in Bremerton, the program’s target audiences are parents with young children, seniors in subsidized housing and children of all ages.

Alleman takes her educational game on the road to Head Start sites and schools in which 50 percent or more of the students qualify for free- or reduced-cost lunches.

The program spans the entire county.

No matter the age group, the program is the same. There is a series of six, hands-on lessons which Alleman, a registered dietician, leads.

The children’s classes include a parent newsletter that’s used to reinforce at home the lessons learned in the classroom.

“Youth are the primary focus,” Alleman said. “If we change their habits while they’re young, they’ll have those healthy habits for a lifetime,” she said.

A survey taken of the families who go through the classes show favorable results, she said.

Overall, 70 percent of the families are more active and eat more fruits and vegetables.

The newsletter has proven successful, as well.

“Even though we’re working with the children, the children go home and teach the parents,” Alleman said. “The newsletter helps spread that message.”

At the Head Start sites, Alleman faces the arduous task of getting preschoolers to eat a healthy mix of fruits and veggies instead of consuming empty calories.

“Research shows that children who are taught to experience new foods are found to eat healthier foods later in life,” Alleman said.

Alleman also teaches the classes at Women Infants and Children Nutrition Program sites on a monthly basis.

These classes teach participants how to cook nutritious meals and snacks on a budget, and to understand basic nutrition and food safety.

Participants receive a cookbook with healthful recipes at the completion of class.

Food Sense also places an emphasis on adding more exercise to the daily regimen.

“We teach families about getting out and moving more,” Alleman said. “Whether it’s walking the dog or going out for a walk with the kids after dinner, especially now with the days getting longer.”

For those who don’t financially qualify for the classes, Alleman offers a few bits of advice to help stretch the food dollar.

• Shop the sales. Use sales circulars to find deals on meat and pantry staples.

Try to create a weekly menu based on what’s on sale.

• Buy in season. Fruits and vegetables are cheaper while they’re in season, and those grown locally also tend to be cheaper.

If fresh fruits and veggies are too expensive, buying frozen is a viable alternative both health-wise and budget-wise.

“Frozen vegetables have the most nutrients compared to canned,” Alleman said.

•Buy in bulk. It’s just cheaper. This also brings two options: Meat purchased in bulk can be frozen up to three or four months or items purchased in bulk can be split with a friend to save money and storage space.

• Cook ahead. Making meals ahead of time and freezing or refrigerating them can cut down on the evening dinner panic, resulting in less last-minute trips to the grocery store or preventing grabbing an order to go from the nearest restaurant.

Food Sense is funded through Washington State University, the USDA Food Stamp program and about 25 community partners.

For more information on Food Sense, call Alleman at (360) 337-4651.

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