One woman’s decision to join a class exposed her family to an affordable, healthy eating lifestyle with long-term benefits.
Gaynette McKenzie, a 62-year-old retiree and native of Montezuma, learned about the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) while enrolling her two daughters and granddaughter, ages 4-7, into school at Macon County Elementary in nearby Oglethorpe.
“I was skeptical at first. I said to myself, ‘Oh Lord, what I’m about to get myself into now,’” McKenzie said.
EFNEP, a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) program, educates families and individuals about improving their diets. The curriculum emphasizes increased physical activity and teaches techniques to improve food safety and security.
Alicia Montgomery, FVSU’s Macon County program assistant, instructs residents in the Macon County community about eating healthy on a budget. Each class lasts about seven weeks and meets for an hour and a half once a week. Average enrollment per class is 15 to 20 participants.
“I’ve just enjoyed teaching EFNEP since I was a class participant in Fort Valley,” Montgomery said.
During 2013, Montgomery took the class taught by family and consumer sciences agent Gail Adams. “I loved what I went through and the changes I made,” Montgomery said. One of those changes included losing 50 pounds by changing her diet and preparing recipes from the EFNEP cookbook. Montgomery says she has a personal connection with her students. “I’m a living testimony. I wouldn’t put any information out there if I haven’t experienced it,” she said.
The FVSU program assistant’s personal experiences teaching EFNEP classes is helping sway students like McKenzie to improve their cooking habits and grocery shopping.
“I got into the class because it is all about nutrition. It’s helped me to cook better not only for me, but for my girls and my mother in the nursing home as well,” McKenzie said.
On average, McKenzie said she prepares evening meals for six people, which includes her adult son, daughter and other family members.
“We’ve learned to eat proper portions instead of piling food onto the plate. I’ve also learned not to be heavy handed with salt or try not to cook with salt at all. I have high blood pressure, and I have to learn to watch my sodium,” the Macon County native added.
McKenzie said the transition to healthy eating was bumpy at first, but as time progressed, she used alternatives such as Italian seasonings and other spices. She also started thoroughly reading labels, especially when purchasing canned goods to see how much sodium they contained.
“You have to rinse the beans. When using ingredients such as canned chicken, you pour the liquid off because the chicken already has salt in it,” McKenzie said.
In addition to teaching the techniques of healthy cooking, the EFNEP curriculum includes information about purchasing groceries on a budget.
“Make your grocery list out before you go to the store and try to go by it. Watch your prices versus brand name and non-brand products. I’ve learned that when you watch your unit prices and things of that nature, you can save money. With me and the children in my house, depending on what I’m buying, I probably save about $80-100 dollars a month,” McKenzie said.
The impact of participating in EFNEP has a firm hold on McKenzie’s lifestyle.
“We’re eating healthier now, and that includes my son and his wife. They are always asking, ‘What did you cook today?’ and I will tell them, ‘Let me get my book.’ I even told my daughter-in-law I would give her one of my cookbooks,” McKenzie said.
The Frito-Lay retiree and foster parent highly recommends EFNEP to anyone who’s hesitant about enrolling. “I would say take the class. It’s not a hard class; it’s a fun class. It’s something you can participate in and learn. It will help you in your household, your finances and eating habits.”
EFNEP is offered through land-grant universities like Fort Valley State University. Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) personnel in the Cooperative Extension Program teach the EFENP curriculum. More than half a million low-income families and youths participate in EFNEP annually.
For more information about the EFNEP program in Macon County, contact Montgomery at (478) 391-4743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.