Interview with GYFS/HSG Pilot Program Participant Connie Steele: Making Family Nutrition Proactive and Innovative

Interview with GYFS/HSG Pilot Program Participant Connie Steele: Making Family Nutrition Proactive and Innovative

conniesteeleConnie Steele is a working professional who lives with her husband and their two boys, ages 3 and 6, in Northern Virginia.  “I have my own marketing consulting business, which can make things pretty busy and hectic,” said Connie. She added that “being able to juggle and manage your own business while trying to put healthy meals on the table can be a challenge,” which is why she turned to GYFS for help.

Inspired to join the program by her desire to integrate healthier meals into her family’s normal routine, Connie says that an affinity for cooking has never been a problem—yet finding the time to cook sometimes has. “I cook a lot and love to cook. For me, being able to make healthy meals is not daunting,” she said. Mastering “time management and ensuring there is enough variety of nutritious food,” however, is an ongoing challenge, for Connie and for many other families.

“I wanted to branch out and see how I could explore different ways of cooking,” Connie shared. While “it is always a challenge to operationalize” healthy meal planning, Connie found that Grow Your Family Strong gave her the tools she needed to streamline the process. Since the program ended, Connie feels like her diet and her family’s diets have changed. “The program certainly was an opportunity to broaden my horizons.”

Nowadays, Connie is planning ahead and thinking more creatively about how to use ingredients. She purposefully thinks about how to repurpose food made the night before into new dishes for lunch the next day. “I like the notion of it, and hadn’t thought about it before,” she said of the practice. Connie also enjoyed the unique integration of vegetables that the program encourages: “the program integrates vegetables in a very different way, and I found that using butternut squash in turkey chili or shrimp curry was very creative. It made me think: how else can I apply this to other foods I have in the same fashion?”

Connie said her husband has “always been aware that we have to eat healthier” and is “appreciative of this effort and all the different options” the GYFS program offers. “The kids try to eat whatever we give them as well. We have started to integrate more and more fruit.” Connie also said she has found that asking her kids to eat at least one piece of fruit with dessert helps integrate more fiber and vitamins into their diets, while curbing their intake of unhealthy sweets.

Connie does feel like she has a strong community of friends who she could reach out to for healthy eating support, but doesn’t feel like, in her case at least, that the community element is a necessity; “For me, that piece isn’t as necessary, as I’ve always cooked a lot and love cooking. For me, it is just a matter of planning (and ultimately delegating). My 6-year-old wants to help. My husband helps with dishes and cleanup. I don’t feel like I need the community to that same extent.” Connie did add, however, that she might “use community more for exchange of ideas versus confidence and knowing how to tackle the program.”

“I think it comes down to understanding alternatives,” Connie explained, referring to the barriers to making and planning healthy meals on a regular basis. “ Recipes can be pretty formulaic. There are elements that individuals like and don’t like, and it is hard to please everyone. Understanding what you can substitute in and what options are is important.”

Connie, who works in technology, looks forward to seeing the fruition of innovative tools and resources we “can provide people that can really help them sort out things quickly.” Prior to the program, Connie hadn’t heard of the “dirty dozen” list of produce with the highest traces of pesticides.  She believes that finding out how to integrate that information without having to do individual research is one of the keys to success, as is learning “how to anticipate people’s needs to help guide them along the way.”

“Cooking and planning tends to be reactive rather than proactive. You get home, then think about what to make,” Connie said. She wonders, if “impulsiveness is a big reason of why people end up eating unhealthily,” then “how do you start to be smart on anticipating people’s needs?”

As for community interventions, Connie believes that meeting in person with individuals and families and cooking and demonstrating good grocery shopping habits can establish a good basis in nutrition. “Some people don’t know how to cook as efficiently as they could and it takes a long time for individuals who haven’t done this recently,” Connie said. She believes that “seeing how people are doing it and having face-to-face interaction on a local level” can therefore be very beneficial.

Finally, Connie believes that the gatekeepers of nutrition for their families should try to think of nutrition more holistically: “Holistically, what kind of nutrition are you getting? We tend to think of the food we are making, not necessarily the nutrition of the food. The end goal is making a meal, not making a certain combination of calories, fat, etc.” Finding ways to reorient mindsets is thus another idea for improving health community-wide; “If you are able to shift perceptions and make sure people think of nutrition first,” said Connie, “then that is going to be a huge accomplishment.”

Hope Street Group Health Policy Insights

Connie’s household, like many working families, is constantly seeking solutions to problems like a lack of time and information on nutrition and wellbeing. New technology is emerging to help meet these needs. Mobile Health, or mHealth, is, according to the NIH, “the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services, and health research.”

Did you know?

Mobile Health is a rapidly growing field. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 31% of cell phone owners use their phones to look up health information online and one in 5 smartphone owners has downloaded a health-related app.

A 2012 report by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, entitled “mHealth in an mWorld: How Mobile Technology is Transforming Health Care,” reveals that there are some 13,600 apps in the iTunes store related to health care, 14.1% of which are focused specifically on diet.

Interested in exploring Mobile Health in further depth? Check out these websites devoted to helping you improve your health through the use of innovative technological tools:

Chosen by Apple as the Best Health App of the Year, Fooducate offers an extensive database of food recommendations. Scanning a barcode allows you to instantly access relevant information and a “grade” for each product, which is generated using a scientific algorithm based on its nutrition facts and ingredient list. Apps are available for free download on iPhone and Android devices.

You can also check out a New York Times summary of the app here:

Looking to cultivate healthier habits? Juice is a free smartphone app that lets you rate your energy levels throughout the day, so that you can “connect the dots between your habits and your energy level.” The app allows you to not only gain insight on how your daily habits impact your energy, but what steps you can take to improve your vitality.

The app was profiled on GeekWire, an online Tech news source:

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