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She helps people make healthier food choices

By Staff | Mar 14, 2011

Sarah Smith teaches proper eating habits and healthy living tips to students at Head Start in Blue Earth.

“You are what you eat” isn’t exactly her message, but it is close. Perhaps “you will become what you eat,” is closer.

Sarah Smith is the new Community Nutrition Educator for Faribault County.

“My job is to teach people how to choose healthful foods, how to cook in healthful ways and how to stay fit and healthy,” Smith says.

She started her new job on Feb. 1, and says she absolutely loves it.

A native of Elk River, Smith has lived with her family in Blue Earth for the past 10 years.

Smith’s daughter Cailynn demonstrates one of the food puppets used in the food presentations.

“I was working as a cook at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center when this position opened up,” she says. “I applied and was hired.”

Previously, June Sorensen was the nutritionist for both Faribault and Martin County. She was splitting her time between the two counties.

“It was way too much for one person to handle, so they split the job,” Smith says. “June is now covering Martin County and I am working exclusively in Faribault County. It works well since June lives in Fairmont, and I live in Blue Earth.”

The positions are part of the County Extension Service, run through the University of Minnesota. Smith’s office is right across the hall from the 4-H Extension office in the annex of the Faribault County Courthouse.

“I am hired for 30 hours a week, for 10 months of the year,” Smith says.

Smith holds a poster which promotes eating a healthful breakfast.

During that time, she mainly works with low income families.

“You need to be on some sort of food support program to qualify for my help,” she explains. “If I give a program to a large group, at least 50 percent of the participants have to be on something like food stamp assistance.”

Smith says she teaches basic food pyramid group lessons, as well as how to stay healthy, fitness activities and food safety.

She takes her message across Faribault County. Last week she was in Wells with their Head Start Program, as well as the Broadway Apartments and the senior dining group. She also was setting up schedules to speak to classes at USC Schools.

Last Thursday she was at Head Start in Blue Earth and at YSI Academy in Elmore. Smith was also setting up appointments at Blue Earth Area Schools to talk to first graders. Since schools receive federal food assistance, they qualify for her programs.

“At YSI Academy, I actually teach the kids how to cook, and how to make healthful food and meal choices,” she says.

One of her biggest hurdles is trying to teach them portion control. But, Smith says, that is something everyone needs to learn.

“Our food portions are much too large,” she says. “Teenagers are amazed to see what a normal portion should be, because they take twice that amount, at least.”

Smith works with people who are on the NAPS, MAC and WIC programs. These are food assistance programs run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

WIC stands for ‘women, infants and children’ and covers kids up to four years old, Smith explains. MAC is ‘mothers and children’ and covers kids five to six years old. NAPS is an income eligible food assistance program.

“The people receive things like pasta, beans, rice, cheese and condensed milk,” Smith says. “But, sometimes they don’t know what to do with it. I help teach them how to use the items and how to store something like a five-pound block of cheese. And, I am trying to develop some recipes for these items.”

Smith is also working with the Faribault County Job Club, a group of people who are searching for employment.

“One of the things I teach them is the importance of a good breakfast,” Smith says. “Two donuts and a can of pop at a gas station is not a good breakfast. And, it is helpful to prepare for the day with a good breakfast, so they stay sharp at a job interview.”

When she isn’t working, Smith likes to spend time with her family. That includes husband Paul, who works for a construction company, and three daughters: Payton, 9; Jordon 8; Cailynn 4.

“We like to be outside as much as we can when the weather is nice,” Smith says. “We grow a big garden, full of interesting – and healthful – vegetables.”

And, since she has three girls, Smith has become very active in the local Girl Scout organization. She is a girl scout leader in two different troops and is also the Service Unit Manager for area towns such as Blue Earth, Delavan, Elmore and Frost.

“Right now we are very busy with our Girl Scout cookie sales,” Smith says.

Are Girl Scout cookies on the healthful foods list that Smith promotes at her job?

“Probably not,” she says with a laugh. “But, they sure taste good.”