University of Minnesota
Jayne Fulkerson holds a copy of the HOME Plus Cookbook, filled with "simple, delicious, and loved recipes for your family." It's provided as part of the current HOME Plus study, which runs through 2015.
All in the family kitchen
HOME Plus program offers hands-on nutrition education to families
Jayne Fulkerson has long been interested in the implications of eating together as a family, but she realized that there’s been missing information in the research puzzle; namely, just what the health benefits are or could be, and how they might aid the effort to combat childhood obesity.
So she developed a pilot program six years ago to see whether it was feasible to teach families to prepare and eat healthy foods together.
She recruited 44 families in the Minneapolis area, and half of them attended 90-minute sessions where they learned how to prepare quick recipes in the same time it would take to go out and eat fast food. In addition, their kids (ages 8 to 10) were actively involved in the food preparation.
“Kids are learning a life skill that they can use the rest of their lives to eat better if they learn how to cook,” says Fulkerson, an associate professor in the U’s School of Nursing. “And they’re definitely more excited about what they’re eating if they make it themselves or have some part in it.”
The pilot program was successful, and it has now morphed to bigger and better things.
Her new program is called HOME Plus—a five-year, NIH-funded research effort involving families with children ages 8-12. HOME stands for Healthy Offerings via the Mealtime Environment and "Plus" for reducing sedentary behavior.
Mix ingredients and simmer for 10 months
Families in the HOME Plus control group participate in the same three data measurements as the “intervention” families, but their information is limited to a monthly two-sided newsletter with a recipe and information on family togetherness and community events.
However, the families chosen for intervention attend a two-hour information and demonstration session each month for 10 months, complete with homework assignments and take-home recipes.
Each session has an introduction for the evening and then time for preparing recipes, which include a vegetarian entrée, a non-vegetarian entrée, a salad, and a fruit-based dessert.
The families then separate into a parents group and a kids group. Parents share information and advice, such as how to get their families together and what to do when their kids come home from school famished—well before the family dinner hour—because they ate a really early lunch.
And the kids learn about food and nutrition through hands-on activities. In one, they choose snacks from several options. They then look at the grams of fat and sugar on the labels, and for as many grams of fat as are in the snack they scoop a teaspoon of Crisco into a bowl. They do the same with the sugar.
“At the end, they look at this glob of Crisco and this pile of sugar, and they’re so disgusted,” Fulkerson laughs. “And it’s good!”
The families then get back together—with their extended families invited, too—for a buffet-style meal where proper portion sizes are demonstrated and emphasized.
Fulkerson has noticed that the children in the program are often more open-minded toward food options than their parents would ever have guessed.
Kids in the HOME Plus program learn to help prepare their own meals.
“Sometimes it’s easier for someone else to show your child something healthy to eat and have him or her try it than it is as a parent,” she says. “So I think that’s one thing that the parents really like is that their kids are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables that they didn’t expect they would eat, in this setting.
“That’s partly to do with their participating in it and helping make it. And they will say, ‘I made this, you need to try it’ to other people at the session.”
Fulkerson says the program is focused on changing the home food environment and attitudes about healthful eating, especially food acceptance and shared responsibility. And for parents, it’s also about being a good role model for healthy eating.
The first cohort finished its monthly sessions in July but still hasn’t participated in the final data collection, so it’s still too early to draw conclusions from the research. But Fulkerson has observed the positive effects.
“I think it’s really promising. To hear kids say, ‘I eat a salad every day’ just warms my heart,” she smiles. “They’re saying that they’re eating more vegetables and they’re not watching TV while they’re eating anymore; they’re doing all these different behaviors that we’re asking of them. …
“It’s just really fun to watch what happens from the first session to the later sessions. By the tenth one, they really seem to have taken a lot of information and made changes.”