University of Delaware
UD senior Katie Tifer and children in the Kid Chef program listen as Food Bank dietician Beverly Jackey demonstrates measuring cups of various sizes. The participants received "goody bags" with cups and other kitchen utensils.

Pass the peas, please

Working for healthier communities through nutrition education


11:23 a.m., May 18, 2011--Melissa Blackard watched quietly as the ten young cooks in the culinary club at the Greater Newark Boys and Girls Club in Bear, Del., donned white chef’s hats and bright red aprons to serve their guests. Her work as “nutrition guru” was done—the low-fat meal of turkey pocket tacos with mango salsa was beautifully prepared and included all of the food groups.

Blackard, originally from Landenberg, Pa., became involved with the kids’ culinary club through a field placement for a community nutrition class at the University of Delaware. Each of the students in the class spends 30 hours over the course of the semester working in a community agency on a nutrition-related project.

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Participating organizations range from high school wellness and food service programs to Meals on Wheels and the March of Dimes. The students work with individuals of all ages, from toddlers in UD’s Early Learning Center to older adults in the New Castle County Senior Nutrition Program.

“This is a capstone class for our seniors,” says Prof. Nancy Cotugna, “and they have a lot of skills to offer. They’re not just observing—they’re collaborating and contributing. In some cases, they’re placed with professionals in the field of nutrition, but sometimes they’re actually teaching the people they’re working with.”

At the Boys and Girls Club, Blackard worked with volunteer coordinator Leslie McGowan. “We had other volunteers who provided recipes and helped with the cooking, but it was Melissa who taught the nutrition lessons—she did an awesome job,” McGowan says.

Katie Tifer, from Wilmington, Del., worked with the Food Bank of Delaware—a placement that offered her a picture of “the different faces of hunger.”

“I learned a lot about how far a little generosity can go,” she says. “It was overwhelming to see just how grateful these individuals were for our assistance. I understand now that ending hunger is a community-wide effort. It was wonderful to see how many people were willing to do their part to help make a better tomorrow not just for themselves but for everyone.”

Jessica Perelli of Germantown, Md., assisted in the UD Employee Wellness Program (also known as HealthyU). She participated in a health screening event for elderly individuals, held at an apartment complex in Wilmington, and also planned and implemented a cooking demonstration for UD employees that HealthyU hosts twice a year. 

“Overall, I learned a great deal about how a grant-funded program works with various groups of individuals in the community to improve their physical health and well-being,” she says.

Kristen Moran, who came to UD from Hampton Bays, N.Y., spent the semester with the Head Start Program in Newark, Del.  Her work included weighing and measuring children to calculate body mass index, delivering lessons about healthy foods, and gathering nutrition information for the families of the children to use at the center. 

“I was very impressed with the high nutrition and meal standards that Head Start maintains,” Moran says. “Specifically, I found that health and maturity were fostered by the family-style dining standard they have in place. It was pretty amazing to see three- to five-year olds setting their own table, pouring their own milk, and politely asking each other to pass the dishes of food. I learned a lot about effective nutrition and health standards in schools and had a great time with the kids.”

For Kyle Takayama, the field placement led to a full-time job after graduation. During the fall 2009 semester, he worked with Beverly Jackey, registered dietitian at the Food Bank of Delaware.

“I was really inspired by what I saw and learned at the Food Bank,” says Takayama, now community nutrition educator for the organization. “The discovery learning component of the course not only provided me with practical experience in the field but also pushed me toward a career in community nutrition. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn at the Food Bank during my senior year and to now work here professionally.”

About the program

Funds for the culinary club and kitchen renovations at the Greater Newark Boys and Girls Clubs were provided by a grant from the Dow Gives Community Grant Program, the philanthropic arm of Dow Chemical Company. The dinner was held to thank Dow for the contribution and to mark the “graduation” of the club’s first class.

Nancy Cotugna is a professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition (BHAN) at UD. Melissa Blackard, Katie Tifer, Jessica Perelli and Kristen Moran are all members of the class of 2011 in BHAN, and Moran is in the UD Honors Program. Kyle Takayama earned his bachelor’s degree in dietetics at UD in 2010.

Tifer worked with the Kid Chef program, which was sponsored by the Food Bank of Delaware and funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation.

NTDT460 Community Nutrition covers nutritional care as a part of health maintenance, health promotion, and healthcare delivery in community settings. The course is taught using lectures, field work, and case studies. The field work provides 30 hours of supervised service in a community nutrition or health agency.

Article by Diane Kukich

Photos by Doug Baker

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