NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Preparing Thanksgiving Dinner A Step Toward Independent Living

LAS VEGAS, N.M. -- A Thanksgiving spread of turkey, pumpkin pie, fruit salad and other trimmings represents more than a meal for one Las Vegas man named Steven.

It's the culmination of 10 months of learning and adjusting to life on his own in transitional housing.

Since moving into his own apartment, Steven has looked forward to his weekly sessions with Rose Mary Romero, a family educator with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Rose Mary works with local agencies like San Miguel-Mora Mental Health to provide information on nutrition, food safety, shopping and budgeting for clients in outpatient programs.

In Steven's case, Rose Mary provides directions for preparing one meal and helps him plan shopping lists for the next visit.

"He's always waiting at the door for me, he always has his ingredients, and he's always ready to learn," she says.

Many of Steven's meals -- like a vegetable-beef stew -- are slow-cooked in the new crockpot he bought. With Rose Mary's instruction, he has also tackled spaghetti and homemade bread. One of his recent successes was inviting friends to share a dinner of beans and cornbread he made himself. If he has leftovers, he can freeze them for later, though Steven says that isn't often the case.

Shopping and cooking for himself provides a measure of independence for Steven.

His apartment is furnished simply but neatly, with a recliner, small television, couch covered with a throw and a black lacquered dinette table and sturdy chairs. "I bought (the dinette set) them for $50," he explains. A radio plays in the background as he slices carrots and chops stew meat.

Rose Mary, who has worked with EFNEP for nine years, also teaches preschoolers in the Headstart program, mentally retarded clients, young mothers and senior citizens. Although their ages and needs differ, they all need to know about nutrition, she says.

"If we have good food, we have good health and we feel good about ourselves."

EFNEP is a federally funded program administered by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. Although it once served 23 counties in the state, flat funding has meant the program's reach is now limited to four counties: Bernalillo, Dona Ana and a combined San Miguel-Mora program. State legislators will consider funding to increase EFNEP's reach in the next legislative session.

Family educators with EFNEP sometimes work with large groups and sometimes on a one-to-one basis, but always with the goal of reaching as many people as possible.

"Nutrition is the basis for life. When we teach nutrition, we don't just teach it to one person, but in a way that's designed to involve their family and friends as well," says Jeannie Martinez McKinley, the Extension home economist who supervises the San Miguel-Mora EFNEP program.

"In this area, we have a very diverse population, including children, young mothers and senior citizens, as well as clients from a number of mental health outpatient programs. We think it's important to help people care for themselves and become productive citizens."

That's what Steven's Thanksgiving dinner with his friends is all about.
©2007 NMSU Board of Regents - Legal Information