EAT RIGHT PHILLY: Inspiring Health, Wellness and Better Learning
June 1, 2021
Since 2002, Drexel University's Pennsylvania Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (PA SNAP-Ed)/ EAT RIGHT PHILLY has been working with the School District of Philadelphia to make nutrition a priority. Part of the College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP) Department of Nutrition, this program is funded annually through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to empower students and adults in over 70 schools in the district to make healthier food and lifestyle choices. The goal of SNAP-Ed "is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make nutritious food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans." EAT RIGHT PHILLY uses an evidence-based curriculum and strategies to encourage children and adults to make positive daily choices. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for delivering this CNHP program that school children and adults have come to rely on and enjoy.
One of the goals of Pennsylvania's Blueprint for a Hunger-Free Pennsylvania initiative is educating individuals and families on nutrition needs for a healthy life, so the continued partnership that Drexel University's EAT RIGHT PHILLY has with PA SNAP-Ed is vital. "As one of the seven EAT RIGHT PHILLY partners, we are providing free interactive nutrition lessons and outreach programs to SNAP-eligible participants in schools and community sites in Philadelphia," said Judy Ensslin, Program Director. "Our team works with district staff to creatively weave nutrition education into classrooms while making it fun, sustainable and accessible," she added.
The EAT RIGHT PHILLY team of 18—administrative staff, program managers, nutrition coordinators, graduate and undergraduate student employees —is led by Principal Investigator Jennifer Quinlan, PhD and Program Director Judy Ensslin, MS, RDN, LDN. The team traditionally uses a variety of in-person strategies —nutrition and cooking lessons, recipes, demonstrations; food tastings including a fruit/vegetable of the month; school wellness and food access initiatives; hydration, physical activity and school breakfast promotions; and gardening—to make programs fun and engaging. Since March 2020, however, EAT RIGHT PHILLY coordinators adapted to 100 percent online learning, conducting virtual lessons, food demonstrations, and other programs to keep students involved and connected. The Eat Right Philly staff shared what they bought at grocery stores in "unbagging" videos on social media, recorded movement breaks videos, discussed healthy breakfast options, created recipe videos and even inspired some caregivers to have food tasting at home with their children.
In the 2019-2020 school year, with adjustments made for virtual delivery, Drexel's EAT RIGHT PHILLY nutrition coordinators cooked in 33 schools, conducted 136,671 food tastings, taught 13,059 students and adults, and reached over 38,000 participants through wellness initiatives. This year, they continue to touch students' and adults' lives across the city despite the current global health crisis. Even though all current programming is virtual, coordinators still have heart-warming stories of how excited the children are to have EAT RIGHT PHILLY visit their virtual classroom. Young students are excited to share what they are eating, and many like to try new foods. After learning about mangoes, one student told his mother that he "really wanted to try one!" His mother went to the store and bought enough for the whole family to enjoy! Older students are engaged by virtual cooking demonstrations. In one class, students ask for the recipe before class to get the ingredients in advance and cook along with the coordinator. In other classes, students will share recipes that they have made or discuss how they altered a recipe for foods they had on hand. Reaching adults is also essential to the EAT RIGHT PHILLY team. After attending a few sessions, one adult stated, "I am more confident in my cooking, my ability to cook healthy meals and have not bought fast food in a while. The best part is that my grandchild enjoys the food I make!"
The EAT RIGHT PHILLY team knows that anything can happen in a classroom when conducting a program. Adaptability is often needed. "The current pandemic required us to adapt from 100 percent in-person to 100 percent virtual. This team did it quickly, creatively and professionally, continuing to provide quality nutrition programming to students and adults in the Philadelphia community," stated Ensslin.
While COVID-19 may have thrown everyone a curveball, the EAT RIGHT PHILLY team stayed the course in engaging students and helping them develop skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.
More about the Snap/ED EAT RIGHT PHILLY program's work and success can be found in their 2019-2020 annual report.