PANDEMIC RESPONSE: LSU AgCenter Takes Virtual Nutrition Education to Limited Resource Audiences

Mary May, Charles, Sharman J., Holston, Denise

Sandra May, Sharman Charles and Denise Holston

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, LSU AgCenter family and consumer sciences nutrition agents across Louisiana taught nutrition education classes to adults and children face-to-face in their communities and in schools. But because of the pandemic, in-person classes were halted in March 2020. To continue their outreach, the agents from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed), the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Flavors of Health program worked together to develop a virtual nutrition education program. With rising unemployment and an increase in the number of individuals and families needing supplemental food and benefits, it was imperative to reach those in need with practical, research-based nutrition information.

Based on the LSU AgCenter’s “Let’s Eat for the Health of It” curricula, the team developed a series of eight PowerPoint presentations to help people gain confidence and skills in making healthful food choices, being physically active, managing their food dollars and keeping their food safe. To engage participants, the 25- to 30-minute presentations include interactive activities, conversation prompts, recipe videos and games.

To reach youth audiences, the agents produced videos for use in schools that did not allow visitors on their campuses during the pandemic. These videos were also posted online by teachers for students who were learning from home. Because participants must attend all eight classes to complete each of the programs, videos of the adult lessons were produced and shared with participants to use as make-up lessons when classes were missed.

With a need to continue programming under unprecedented circumstances, the team began developing a strategy for recruiting new eligible participants and retaining enrolled participants. One of the challenges they faced was reaching specific target audiences: limited-resource individuals and families who qualify for the SNAP-Ed or EFNEP programs. Criteria for participant eligibility is determined by each program’s federal guidelines.

To reach the specific audiences, the AgCenter agents collaborated with community partners, such as local libraries, Head Start, WIC clinics and schools, to enroll participants for classes. Virtual programs were advertised via Facebook, where participants could register online. Promotional videos featuring SNAP-Ed and EFNEP nutrition agents were produced to explain the benefits of attending the classes and how to register. These videos were posted on social media as well. For federal reporting purposes, a screening process was put in place to determine eligibility for SNAP-Ed; however, all those who enrolled were able to attend classes virtually or via distance delivery methods.

Typically, the nutrition lessons are about 50 to 60 minutes. The virtual lessons were shortened to no longer than 30 minutes. The team took into consideration participants who may have limited minutes on their cellular plan and for the home environment in which other family members may be online. Results from pre- and post-program evaluations indicated the participants gained knowledge about nutrition.

Over time, EFNEP and SNAP-Ed nutrition agents and educators embraced virtual programming and were able to recruit and deliver nutrition education programs from their homes or offices. Some conducted virtual food demonstrations and encouraged participants to cook along with them.

The benefit to offering virtual nutrition education classes was that AgCenter agents could remain visible in their community and still connect with their audiences while remaining safe during the pandemic. Also, it allowed nutrition programs to explore alternative ways to reach audiences who may not be able to attend in-person classes.

Sandra May is an instructor and curriculum coordinator; Sharman Charles is director of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP); and Denise Holston is an assistant professor and extension nutritionist, all in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

(This article appears in the summer 2021 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

9/2/2021 3:28:35 PM
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