For all the wealth of fruits and vegetables the state’s farmers produce, many low-income Oregonians struggle to include recommended amounts in their diets.
An OSU survey of about 1,200 Oregonians eligible for federal food assistance found that more than 80 percent said they wanted to serve more balanced meals. Nearly half of those surveyed wanted to find information about healthy food choices online.
Food Hero is a statewide initiative of the Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program and was developed by the Oregon State University Extension Service in English and Spanish. All the recipes are tested according to criteria, such as overall flavor, color and texture. Food Hero meals are low-cost and feature easy to find ingredients, easy to follow instructions, and minimal preparation time.
“We are making a difference, meeting people where they are with educators providing strong science to help people create their own well-being,” said Maureen Quinn Lores, nutrition education program coordinator with Extension Family and Community Health in Washington County.
Food Hero is also used in schools to teach kids about nutrition through sharing the recipes and sampling new foods. Nutrition programs are presented in English and Spanish and sometimes interpreted.
“We work with adults on long term relationships and in the Department of Human Services’ lobbies providing samples and coaching people on how to cook new recipes or find creative ways to use foods already in their pantry,” said Quinn.
Food Hero is designed for limited income Oregonians but it has also become a resource for growers to provide education about how to use their products. The Family and Community Health program is working with farmers market managers to make them aware of the free materials that farmers can share with their customers.
Recipes and cooking tips are also shared through a Food Hero monthly publication in Spanish and English that reaches more than 3,700 email subscribers and boasts a print circulation of 53,000.
In surveys, 72 percent of parents and caregivers reported making at least one Food Hero recipe. More than 50 percent made changes in the foods their family ate. And kids themselves—some of them tough cookies when it comes to taste—are reporting that they liked more than one-third of the dishes they tried.
Hundreds of comments on the website attest to Food Hero’s positive impact. One commenter wrote: “Love using these easy but healthy recipes! Everything always tastes great!”