Cooperative Extension staff takes nutrition pledge, challenges others to do the same

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 13 February 2016 at 12:00 am

Photos by Kristina Gabalski – Kim Hazel (left), Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension agriculture and horticulture senior adminsitrative assistant, and Nutrition Educator Natalie Heller sign the Nutritious Gatherings Pledge at the OCCCE offices in Knowlesville.

KNOWLSEVILLE – Hitting the drive-through to pick up donuts for sharing at the office can be a very easy thing to do, said Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-H Educator Robert Batt. But it only takes a few more minutes to stop at the grocery store and select healthier choices like fruit, fresh veggies and cheese.

Extension staff in Orleans County are signing a Nutritious Gatherings Pledge – which will hang in their office at the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds in Knowlesville. The Extension staff members commit themselves to have “healthy foods for staff gatherings including breaks and meetings.”

Those healthy food options include cheeses, apples, nuts, hummus, yogurts, carrots, other fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy baked goods.

Batt said staff members realized they were frequently snacking on donuts and pastries at the office with some unpleasant results. The habit was making them feel sluggish in the middle of the workday and even packed on pounds.

Horticulture Educator Katie Oakes, for example, noticed she gained weight after starting at Extension last spring, Batt said. The staff recently decided things needed to change and the idea for a nutritious eating pledge surfaced.

Nutrition information and help in making healthy choices is available from Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program.

Natalie Heller, Nutrition Educator for the Extension’s Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), says she is excited about the change. “We all want to eat healthy and feel good,” she explained.

Physical activity and movement also play a part in living a healthy lifestyle at work, Heller said.

“We take a 15-minute break every day and walk on the Fitness Trail (located on the fairgrounds),” she said. “It helps with mental clarity and gives you more energy.”

Sweet treats are not completely banned under the pledge, but limited to special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, awards, holidays, new hires and retires.

“That’s what we’re trying to teach our 4-H’ers,” Robert Batt said. “Treats are for special occasions.”

He said the Nutritious Gatherings Pledge helps staff members to be role models for 4-H’ers and also for other agency workers.

“We are challenging other agencies in Orleans County (to take the Nutritious Gatherings Pledge), to see if they are up to the challenge,” Heller said.

She noted that there are lots of possibilities for healthy snacks including salsa, pitas, whole grain chips, “options that are satisfying but healthier than having brownies,” Heller said.

A Healthy & Homemade 2016 Nutrition and Fitness Calendar is one of the many helpful sources of nutrition/healthy eating information available from the Extension.

Healthy baked goods fit under the pledge as well. The staff recently tried pumpkin muffins and also enjoyed healthy dips like fruit and peanut butter dip to go with fresh fruits and vegetables.

“You can use applesauce instead of oil in recipes and whole grain flour – or a mix of while and whole grain flour,” Heller said.

She is available to visit agencies and offices to make presentations on nutrition and healthy eating and can be contacted at 585-798-4265 ext. 24/ email:

The Extension, through the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program, is offering a free nutrition programs at various locations around the county.

Each location will run for eight sessions:

Salvation Army – Wednesdays 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – this session began Feb. 10;

Clarendon Town Hall – Fridays 11 a.m. to noon – starting Feb. 19;

Eastern Orleans Community Center (diabetes classes) – Mondays 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. – starting Feb. 22;

Hoag Library: Thursdays 11 a.m. to noon, starting Feb. 25;

Yates Community Library: Tuesdays 11 a.m. to noon, starting March 1;

Lee-Whedon Memorial Library: Tuesdays 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., starting March 1.

March is National Nutrition Month and Heller encourages everyone to chose nutritious food, fun and fitness. The Free Nutrition Program can provide help in making nutritious choices. The sessions will include food tastings, recipes and give-aways.