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The biggest obstacles to healthy eating can be cost and basic knowledge of nutrition. Tapping into the latter isn’t as hard as you might think.

Purdue University Extension’s Nutrition Education Program is offered statewide, and the Crown Point Extension hosts several free six-week sessions in the area to help educate individuals on ways to eat healthier while stretching their dollars. 

The program aims to help Hoosiers make better choices in their eating and physical activity. Statistics show that only 1 in 10 adults in Indiana eats the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables and that 1 in 7 faces hunger or food insecurity. Nearly one-third of Hoosiers are overweight or obese. To address this, more than 17,000 educational programs have been offered for youths and adults.

Nutrition Education Program assistant Beth Noel and colleague Jacqueline Boynes host classes to address this throughout the community almost every weekday. Some are open to the public in libraries or other public venues and others are for medical groups or organizations. Some classes also are taught in Spanish.

Simone Butler of Gary’s Glen Park neighborhood attended a recent six-week class at the Gary Public Library and said it changed the way she shops and eats. She has even lost some weight.

“I learned to look more at labels when I shop,” she said. “I look first at sugar, and I look at calories.” She said the class has helped her avoid foods with large amounts of sugar and fat and little nutritional value. Since taking the class, she’s staying away from pop and sugary juices and paying more attention to portion sizes.

She now eats a lot more fresh vegetables, and she is opting for salads over greasy foods. One of her favorite meals has become a salad of greens and onion with cheese, eggs and chicken and topped with fresh lime and seasonings instead of dressing.

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“It was a good idea going to the class, and I’d recommend for others to take it,” she said. “It changed my habits and was a good class that I would take again.”

Butler said that the six-week class was held at a convenient time at 4 p.m., so she could go straight from work. She also received a certificate for her participation in the nutrition program and a recipe book full of healthy meals and more indulgent dishes using lighter ingredients. Recipes include nutrition facts and are broken down by cost per serving.

The classes cover topics like the five food groups, portion sizing, how to read nutrition facts on labels, food safety in the kitchen, meal planning, and how to save money at the grocery store. There are also cooking demos of fast, easy and inexpensive meals.

Noel said the things that seem to surprise participants most are the lessons on food safety and seeing what correct portion sizes really look like (they are smaller than most people think).

When it comes to saving money, Noel has many suggestions, such as experimenting with nonmeat proteins such as beans, nuts, soy and seafood and preparing meatless entrees such as veggie stir fry or pizza.

For more information on the program, recipes and tips on meal planning, shopping and cooking, visit eatgathergo.org.

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