School update: I started my summer class after a whopping (sarcasm) five days off after my last spring final. Summer class was six hours a day in a classroom (yes, shorter than a workday but six hours of graduate-level coursework in one sitting is fairly exhausting) for the following three weeks. Several things made that time period more bearable. One was the fact that the class was interesting- cool guest speakers, cool topics. Several somewhat emotionally draining conversations about social determinants of health and how eliminating disparities in health between different racial/ethnic/economic groups (breast cancer survivorship in African American women being a particularly grim example) would basically mean having to reform the United States’ entire political and economic system. We learned a lotttt about community health assessments. Fact: your county has to do a community health assessment every 3-4 years. Look it up! Learn how people are doing! Just for kicks and giggles, I looked up my county where I lived growing up. Community assessment data, ideally, is used to help plan programs, services, changes in the built environment, etc. to make the people and environment where you live more healthy. Here’s an example of one of our assignments. We were told to create a simple, short message that could fit on a bumper sticker talking advocating for one area of public health. This was the inarguable winner.
We also did food assessments around neighboring communities. That meant looking at whether there were stores, how easy or hard was it to get to the stores, how affordable were the stores, what kinds of foods were offered at the stores, how family friendly were the stores, etc. etc. You can learn more about community nutrition assessment here. You can see a map of food deserts and racial makeup of neighborhoods here (the Community Commons maps are generally a really cool tool). Some pictures I took that stuck with me:
6 pack of low-nutrient, high-sodium ramen noodles for 33 cents!
Both breads were 100% whole wheat. The one on the left was WIC approved. It cost $2.99 and was 16 ounces. The one on the right was not WIC approved. It cost $1.99 and was 20 ounces. HUH?! This seemed like a ploy from the store to get more money from WIC (which reimburses for the cash value of the food item) and to get families’ bread to run out sooner in the month so they had to get back to the store. In our community food assessment, we also saw some depressing convenience stores in food deserts (one had a toilet in their parking area), and some drive through convenience stores (!!!) Inarguably, however, the most fun aspect of class was that we all agreed to sign up for one snack throughout the course of the class, which meant that every day I could look forward to a healthy (ish) morning and afternoon snack. Note that the snacks I took pictures of were the most exciting (read: unhealthy). Imagine a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, baked chips, hummus, and trail mix interspersed with these. CEREAL BAR! Colton brought in all the throwbacks. This bowl was a mix of French Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs, swoon. (At least they’re both whole grain?)
Carolina went above and beyond and made homemade coconut milk rice pudding with fresh strawberries, swoon!
Fruit, chocolate dip, homemade gluten-free banana bread.
We had a total EPIDEMIC of birthdays in mid-May (I guess everyone’s parents were enjoying their summer vacations?!) and there were celebrations in and out of class. This (obviously) was once class had concluded for the day: tequila and empanadas! That’s what a new restaurant that just opened offers, exclusively. I had a jalapeno cilantro margarita (just okay, kinda weak) and a sauteed poblano pepper and cheese empanada. Other people ate and sang the praises of the key lime pie dessert empanada.
We went the most all out for Sophia’s birthday in class. Sophia is basically the warm and loving Martha Stewart of our class. Fall break? She’s got homemade caramel apples. Valentine’s Day? Homemade fudge cups. Last day of class? A cinco de mayo fiesta. And for every single classmate’s birthday, she has brought a delicious edible gift. So, we returned the favor, and everyone got her one thing 😀 (Mine was fancy local creamed honey- something actually nonperishable! Hopefully a loving and practical gift)
We lit candles on everything. Of course the birthday girl had to take a picture.
Annnd action shot. We were definitely concerned we’d set off a smoke alarm at one point.
Of course, Sophia then had to outdo herself like a week later and make us a last-day-of-summer-class cake. I mean really- Teddy Grahams floating in Lifesaver rafts.
The names of everyone in our class (yes, mine is spelled slightly wrong… but the love is there!) and the teachers in extra large writing. Sophia is amazing- of course she had edible glitter, just lying around.
I was the official Snack Person for this particular day, but let’s be real, my ants on a log (well really fire ants on a log since I used craisins) paled in comparison. (But, uh, they were still delicious because WHO REMEMBERS ANTS ON A LOG AM I RIGHT?!)
We got out at 2pm on Friday, I amused my sister for a weekend, and then I was back to it at 8am the following Monday. Internship time! I’m in the tricky position of wanting to reflect on the time I’m spending at my internship while balancing that with appropriateness and privacy. We’re writing official blogs on our school site, and our professors discouraged us from including information in any private blogs (they don’t know about mine, nor do my classmates… this is strictly a passion project, and I’m nervous for people to see it and expect the professional-caliber work of other graduates of the UNC Nutrition program). ALL THAT BEING SAID, I’ve decided that it’s acceptable for me to share public information with y’all, and I have a fair amount of it. For example, I can tell you that I am interning at a public health department in North Carolina, and that NC health departments all operate independently from the state office, and that health departments in the southern United States tend to play a bigger role as provider of last resort since there are larger numbers of poor and uninsured people down South. And because Southern legislatures tend to be silly and reject free money for a Medicaid expansion. Because the Supreme Court let them. The health department where I work has a lot of services, including clinics, WIC (where I spend most of my time and where my preceptor- all RD students have to be supervised directly by an RD during their internships- is the director), programs to help families, environmental health, and some cool things with child care. Working with the child care health consultant, I got to see this AWESOME outdoor learning environment designed for preschoolers. This was not a traditional “playground” but based much more on free inquiry and exploration of natural spaces.
This was a “sensory garden” for little ones to feel different textures (lots of different smells and sights, too).
A “mud kitchen”. Because kids should be outside getting dirty, both for learning (kids learn through play and open ended play in nature is awesome!) and to get exposed to more normal, healthy microbes!
Water play! Up at the top there is a working pump.
Blueberry maze!! The berries were still pale pinkish when we visited but in a few weeks they’re going to be abundant and delicious!
This area was awesome and based on natural environments. Bird’s nest:
This outdoor learning environment is available for child care centers to bring kids on field trips. Teachers can get a chance to practice interacting with kids in a less structured space. It’s also an area of inspiration for child care centers and schools to hopefully incorporate areas like this into their own space. And finally, the area is open to the whole surrounding community to come play!
A few other highlights: it’s easier getting really sick (and I mean, obviously, it’s going to happen- I’m around small children all day) when your boss is a registered dietitian. I got the vitamin C hookup!
Final highlight: WIC has an awesome breast feeding peer counselor program which you can read about here. I got to tag along with one of the BFPCs to the local hospital and I got to meet FRESH NEW HUMANS! It was amazing. Also, they put pink and blue bows on the door awwwww.