Kaiser Permanente nurse scholars make nutrition education fun at free summer lunch sites in the Sacramento area this summer. Pictured (left to right), registered nurses Sue Arp, Sarah Forrest, and Char Riddle.
By Chyresse Hill
How many of us grew up being told not to play with our food? Well, what about playing games about food?
That’s more than okay for the Sacramento-area children who get to play games, win prizes, and, as a result, learn about healthy eating and active living this summer.
The nutrition games are being led by 14 registered nurses who are completing the Kaiser Permanente Nurse Scholars RN to BSN Program at Samuel Merritt University’s Sacramento campus. The nurse scholars are volunteering at more than 20 school and community sites as part of the United Way’s Million Meals summer program, which serves free lunches to children who might otherwise go hungry.
The nurses received nutrition education training from the UC Cooperative Extension, and the 90 hours they spend working in the community are part of their public health coursework. An additional 98 Kaiser Permanente nurse scholars from the Bay Area and Sacramento are working with community agencies serving low-income and disadvantaged communities as part of the Nurse Scholar’s Academy partnership with Samuel Merritt University.
Simple Lessons, Lasting Impact
Registered nurses Sue Arp, Sarah Forrest, and Char Riddle have been hosting fun nutrition games for families at the Rancho Cordova Library Million Meals site this summer. The nurses are also on hand to answer parent questions on topics such as preventing diabetes and how to get enough exercise.
“I love doing this work in the community. I get to meet a lot of children and their parents, and I am making a difference where I can,” said Forrest, who works in the Emergency Department at the Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Medical Center.
The activities include quizzing kids about colorful fruits and vegetables, teaching them to eat a rainbow of foods, and helping them learn about food groups, from produce to proteins. The nurses also encourage the children to do exercises such as pushups and jumping jacks using a dice game that they seem to love.
“My hope is that, the kids will be healthier, asking for more vegetables with their lunches and dinners, and telling their friends about it,” said Riddle, who works at the Kaiser Permanente Appointment and Advice Call Center in Sacramento.
And that’s happening, according to Jennifer, a mother of 3 who brings her sons to the Rancho Cordova site. Recently, one son attended a birthday party, and she said he was disappointed that fruits and vegetables were not served with the pizza, resulting in a less-than-balanced meal.
“They learn here that it’s important that things be balanced. I can tell him to eat his carrots as much as I want, but he listens when it comes from the nurses,” Jennifer said.
Opening Eyes to Community Needs
The children aren’t the only ones benefiting.
The nurse scholars are connecting with the community and learning about the challenges that many families experience as they try to access nutritious food and health services.
“We hope that they carry this awareness with them into their careers, serving patients at Kaiser Permanente,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO of United Way Sacramento. “At the same time, the nurse scholars are making a significant contribution throughout the region by providing nutrition education for youth and directing families to free and low-cost health services and resources.”
The nurse scholars will soon be finished with their public health hours. But the lessons won’t leave them anytime soon, as each said they get back as much as they give.
“Being at the meal site has opened my eyes to the needs in the community,” said Arp, who works at the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center. “It really has shown me and others how important these programs are and how great the need is.”