Partnership for Healthy Mothers and Children

Healthy Foods, Healthy Families
WIC National Grant Bolsters Access To Healthy Foods

Jillian Aymami got an eye-opening lesson on food labels during a recent trip to the grocery store. Aymami learned that just because a loaf of bread is brown doesn’t mean it is high in whole wheat and that fruits and vegetables cost less when they are in season. The Covington mother of 3-year-old Alaina learned that some foods with a healthy reputation—fruit yogurts, for instance—may be loaded with sugar.

“I’m shopping differently these days because I need to make every dollar count and make good food choices,” Aymami said.

A recent National WIC Association grant to St. Tammany Parish Hospital’s Community Wellness Center is expanding access to healthy foods among local families. The larger goal of the Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children grant is improving health and reducing chronic disease.

The program funded by the Community Wellness Center’s national grant has multiple elements:

  • Educational trips to local grocery stores, called “Cooking Matters at the Store” tours, that are open to WIC recipients and the general public
  • Eat Fit Northshore, a partnership to develop healthy menu choices at local eateries that is modeled on Eat Fit NOLA
  • Community gardens that will grow fruits and vegetables and bolster public understanding of the role these foods play in good health
  • Promoting breastfeeding among new mothers

Eat Fit Northshore will begin close to home: a registered dietician and staff will do Eat Fit analysis and work with community chefs to assess nutritional content of selected menu items.

The CWC staff already work with STPH Executive Chef Abry Crosby, who grows herbs for his dishes in his herb garden adjacent to the cafeteria patio, to ensure optimal nutrition of hospital menu items. Local chefs are responding to the call to offer health menu choices to meet Eat Fit Northshore criteria, said Sandy Matthews, director of the Community Wellness Center.

“These chefs are passionate and creative in recipe modification. It’s rewarding to see restaurant owners and chefs embracing change to provide healthy food to their customers, which truly supports good health in our community. It’s about giving families more healthy options when they go out to eat.”

Meanwhile, community gardens will be developed at three sites: The Community Wellness Center, the YMCA of Western St. Tammany and a community plot on Kleber Street in Mandeville. A coalition of community stakeholders, including the mayors’ offices in Covington and Mandeville, shaped three elements funded by the WIC grant. The Abita Springs mayor’s office supports farmer’s markets, community gardens and healthy food options. The St. Tammany Hospital Foundation secured the grant on behalf of the Community Wellness Center.

“The Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children will improve access to healthy food environments and to prevention and disease-management services,” said Charley Strickland, foundation director.

Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby a few minutes after delivery makes the new mother more likely to try breastfeeding and more likely to succeed at it. Keeping the baby in a crib near her bed throughout her hospital stay, a practice called rooming in, likewise promotes breastfeeding success among new mothers by helping them quickly learn when their baby is hungry. Highlighting such evidence-based best practices that promote breastfeeding is an increasingly visible element of prenatal education and breastfeeding classes at St. Tammany Parish Hospital through the New Family Center and Community Wellness Center.

A National WIC Association Healthy Mothers and Children grant to the Community Wellness Center provides additional education and support to local mothers about breastfeeding’s significant health benefits to mothers and babies alike.