CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE develops culinary skills and contributes to community health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Aug 26, 2020

During COVID-19, CalFresh Healthy Living virtually developed culinary skills of 18 4-H SNAC Club student leaders, who then led 117 culturally-relevant healthy cooking lessons with family members.

The Issue

Health disparities, described in Healthy People 2020 as “health differences that are closely linked with social, economic, and environmental disadvantage,” adversely impact people of color in the United States. Eliminating health disparities will require coordinated efforts across all sectors of society and investment in equitable infrastructure so that all Americans have access to the resources needed to live healthy lives[1]. Obesity and diabetes remain two of the most persistent health outcomes with documented disparities between White and African American or Latino populations and is related to differential access to healthy food, housing, healthcare, education, and safe environments for physical activity created by historic and persistent racist policies and systems. During COVID-19, disparities in health outcomes have intensified as parents who are Hispanic or Black and parents with lower incomes were most likely to lose work-related income and to reduce spending on food during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic[2]. In addition, people of color have a higher risk of infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, risks that are linked to obesity and obesity-related chronic disease[3].

How UC Delivers

CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties works primarily with youth and families attending schools with high rates of low-income students and families who are Hispanic/Latino. UC educators partner with youth in elementary schools to develop expertise in health and nutrition and to advocate for improved access to healthy and culturally relevant foods through the 4-H Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC Club). SNAC Clubs fosters youth leadership, health knowledge, skill building, and career readiness. When schools shut down, UC educators reached out to school administrators to problem-solve ways to continue to partner with and support SNAC Club youth.

Starting in April 2020, 18 youth from two school clubs continued SNAC Club meetings online for nine consecutive weeks. Meetings included cooking and gardening activities, utilizing resources available in students' homes and supplemental materials provided by UCCE staff. During and after the online meetings, youth shared the food they prepared, as well as information about food safety, food budgeting, and the nutritional value of featured ingredients with members of their families. After each session, youth provided their feedback to UCCE educators through an anonymous survey.

The Impact

SNAC Club youth leaders adopted what they learned from UCCE SNAC meetings by delivering a total of 117 lessons to their families and engaging an average of three family members in weekly cooking, nutrition or garden lessons, with some youth engaging up to five family members. Topics taught by youth leaders included healthy recipe demonstration and tasting, the benefits of eating from one or more of the MyPlate food groups, how to make healthy meals on a budget, and cooking with seasonal produce.

Overall, of the six recipes prepared, 92% of youth (n=38) indicated that they would make the recipe again. Youth and their families also commented on changes they would make to the recipes such as omitting onions or adding avocado, tomatoes or cucumber. Several students shared how they involved their families in preparing the recipe together.

Research has shown that programs that enhance cooking skills are supportive of healthy dietary intake, body mass index, and blood pressure[4]. Fostering skill development among youth around preparing healthy foods with and for their families support improved health among low-income and Latino community members and are examples of UC ANR's Public Values of: Promoting healthy people and communities and Developing an inclusive and equitable society for all Californians as we face uncertainty and a global pandemic.


“My family really liked [the baby tomato bites recipe] and said that I should make it again.” – SNAC Club Youth Leader






By Shannon Klisch
Author - Cal Fresh Community Education Supervisor 2
By Emily Dimond
By Rosa Vargas
By Katherine E Soule
Author - Director of Cooperative Extension, SLO & SB Counties & Youth, Families & Communities Advisor