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Free Nutrition Classes Teach About Healthy, Tasty Foods

SANTA FE - Like most teenagers, James Lovato, 17, loves to eat, but now he chooses healthy foods like fruits and vegetables after attending free nutrition classes taught by the Santa Fe County Cooperative Extension Service.

Alumnos de la clase Ideas Sobre Nutrición y Cocina Saludable que enseña el Servicio de Extensión Cooperativa en Santa Fe aprenden a hacer helado con ingredientes sencillos y saludables que incluyen leche chocolatada, vainilla y cubitos de hielo. De izquierda, Julie Lovato, Linda Lovato, la nutricionista Janette Segura, Evelyn Sanchez, Sarah Lovato, James Lovato y Brenda Peña. (05/15/2003) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Kevin Robinson-Avila)

"I've learned it's good to get your vitamins by eating veggies and fruits everyday, because it helps you stay healthy," said Lovato, while eating chocolate ice cream he made in class. "I keep coming, because it's really, really fun. We make lots of good foods in class, like this ice cream. It's delicious."

Lovato attends the classes in Santa Fe with his mother, Linda, and two sisters, Sarah, 11, and Julie, 10. The classes-part of the Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition (I CAN) program that New Mexico State University's Extension Service offers free in most counties-teaches basic nutrition and healthy ways to prepare foods.

The Lovatos say they often try out recipes at home together that they learn in class. "We baked Mexican corn bread that they showed us in class and it came out really good, but next time we'll make a bigger one, because it wasn't enough for all of us," said Linda Lovato, who has two other children and a granddaughter at home. "I have so many kids and this helps me keep them healthy. My dad's a diabetic, so the class has helped me prepare better foods for him, too."

The Lovatos attend classes at the Income Support Division (ISD) offices on Cerrillos Road, where Extension nutrition educators offer three different hour-long courses every Monday and Wednesday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., for anyone who wants to drop in.

"We teach basic nutrition education to show people how to choose good foods and prepare them in healthy ways," said Imelda Garcia, Extension home economist who supervises I CAN in Santa Fe. "The classes are open to everybody, but we reach out to limited-resource families in particular to help them stretch their food dollars. There are so many people living on low incomes in Santa Fe, and we want them to use their money efficiently to feed their families well."

The classes, offered in English and Spanish, cover 18 different topics, Garcia said. Educators teach about the food guide pyramid, with emphasis on low-fat diets and a good balance of grains, vegetables and fruits. Individual classes cover each different food group, as well as food safety, storage and preparation. They also teach food resource management, such as managing food budgets and using shopping lists.

"Generally, it's not a matter of how little or how much a person earns, but how well the money is spent when buying food," Garcia said. "Shopping lists help people avoid overspending by concentrating on buying foods in line with a good meal plan."

Classes cover healthy eating for pregnant women and food preparation for infants and young children. Educators discuss healthy snacks, quick meals, nutrition for seniors, and diabetes management and prevention. Most classes include hands-on cooking and food preparation demonstrations so participants can sample healthy snacks and meals.

"Students always have fun making snacks in the classes," said Janette Segura, the nutrition educator who teaches the Lovatos' class. "That hands-on experience is important to encourage them to try the recipes on their own at home."

After six classes, participants receive an attendance certificate that food industry workers can use on resumes. In fact, Garcia said some graduates have received wage raises after earning their certificates.

Apart from the classes at ISD offices, educators teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays at other locations. The Santa Fe County Extension office also offers free nutrition and cooking classes for people with diabetes and their families, plus a free financial planning course that covers money management, risk management, basic investing and retirement planning. A business management class for food processors is available for $20.

For more information on all classes, call Garcia at (505) 471-4711.