Cook healthy meals in 15 minutes

UGA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP, offered by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the Athens-Clarke County Extension Office, shows clients how to prepare healthy and inexpensive meals in 15 minutes or less. Founded more than 45 years ago with extension agents who went door-to-door and consulted one-on-one with participants, EFNEP now works primarily through agencies that serve clients with limited resources-65 to 70 percent receive some kind of food assistance.

Groups include young women participating in a residential substance abuse program with Advantage Mental Health to teen mothers. EFNEP Coordinator Gail Hanula and her colleagues also have worked with groups at vocational schools, GED and ESL programs, food banks and charitable organizations. The program is free for the agencies and the clients.

The sessions are led by paraprofessionals, approximately 40, who are supervised and trained by county extension agents. And because they are hired from the communities they serve, they relate well to their clients. “We get just so many wonderful comments from the participants about how the paraprofessionals truly understand what they’re going through and how hard it is to stretch that food dollar and make ends meet,” Hanula said.

Many of the recipes have familiar ingredients, but clients also are introduced to items they’ve never used such as reduced fat cheese, plain yogurt and nonfat dry milk. “We make Easy Cheesy Broccoli Soup, and we use the nonfat dry milk. We have to show participants that we’re using it and mix it in front of them so that they believe that we’ve done it-because it’s very, very good,” Hanula said.

Today’s recipes satisfy all the requirements of the MyPlate nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All all of EFNEP’s recipes-are developed with taste as one of several criteria. “As a dietitian, I focus on nutrition, and I want everything to be healthy, but the reason why most people choose their food is taste,” said Hanula.

The USDA provides funding for EFNEP, so data is collected with every group. Clients provide a 24-hour diet recall at the beginning and end of the six-week program, illuminating changes that are made along the way. In fiscal year 2011, 96 percent of clients who completed the EFNEP program improved their daily diets, consuming 0.7 additional cups of more fruits and vegetables and 0.3 cups of calcium-rich foods. 

During the last fiscal year, UGA’s EFNEP program reached more than 4,300 participants directly and more than 15,000 family members indirectly. This year, it’s expanding to cover 25 counties, and program leaders would like to do even more.

For now, Hanula will settle for knowing that EFNEP is helping to reduce the number of people who find themselves without a dinner plan at 5 p.m. and choose to swing by the drive-through window at a fast food restaurant on the way home.

“We really want to encourage people to think ahead, to keep some foods on hand for a busy evening so that they can put a meal together quickly without spending a great deal of money,” Hanula said. “And of course, all of the recipes are healthy, so that’s a good thing.”