Celebrating champions for healthier communities through nutrition
The Let’s Eat Healthy Leadership Award celebrates California leaders and change-makers who educate, inspire and empower children, families and communities to develop lifelong healthy eating habits. Now in its third year, the award program is expanding to recognize and celebrate individuals and organizations that improve nutrition education and access to nutritious foods to make a positive difference in the health of their communities and beyond.
Let’s Eat Healthy is an initiative to bring together diverse individuals and organizations guided by the belief that all children and families deserve equitable access to healthy, culturally diverse foods and nutrition education that centers on people’s unique lived experiences. By supporting access to high-quality, nutritious foods, we strive to ensure all children are supported for optimal growth, development and health throughout life. Through evidence-based nutrition education, individuals learn to make healthy eating decisions, empowering them to build lifelong healthy eating habits.
CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California advances nutrition education in schools and communities. Working with families and individuals who are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, this statewide organization teaches good nutrition, how to make food dollars stretch further and how to be physically active at any age. Through the California Local School Wellness Policy Collaborative, it helps strengthen the implementation of wellness policies in schools across the state. Sustained leadership in the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California empowers school nutrition professionals to activate Smarter Lunchrooms and improve access to healthful foods in school meals. The organization’s collaborative approach to policy, systems and environmental change strategies embodies the Let’s Eat Healthy initiative, improving healthy food access and nutrition education in schools and creating long-lasting community change. MaryAnn Mills, Program Manager at CalFresh Healthy Living believes:
Every student regardless of income, ethnicity or background should understand where their food comes from and how a well-balanced diet can contribute to their overall health. I also recognize that nutrition education is most impactful when students have access to healthy, safe and affordable food.
ImagineU Children’s Museum is a nonprofit hands-on learning center in Visalia, California, that serves the children of the community, seeing approximately 70,000 guests a year. A dairy exhibit at the museum, created in collaboration with California Dairies Inc., California Milk Advisory Board and Dairy Council of California, highlights dairy's important role in healthy eating patterns and sustainable agriculture. It shows how milk and dairy foods are produced, emphasizes safe animal welfare practices and spotlights dairy's recommended consumption for children per the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The standing exhibit, which launched in fall 2021, will be on display for five years. This multi-organization collaboration aims to show the next generation of Californians the importance of dairy foods for health and sustainability, and as part of California's robust agricultural industry. Reflecting on the dairy exhibit, Katy Young, Executive Director at ImagineU shared:
It's important for me that children know where their food is coming from. A lot of times we just go to the grocery store, show up and think it's just there and that's not the case. And living in the Central Valley we are surrounded by so many diverse products…so it's important that as a museum, we're focusing on that.
Linda Allen’s 29-year education career began with teaching 5th grade, and nutrition education has always been a vital component. She is currently a Reading Specialist and Health and Wellness Coordinator at Sundale Elementary School, where seven years ago administrators asked her to lead the district’s Nutrition and Wellness Program. Linda established the Sundale School Wellness Committee, which works in partnership with students, staff and the community. She helped the school become the first to pilot the Let’s Eat Healthy nutrition curriculum online pre-and post-assessments. Using nutrition resources, Linda supports teachers, parent groups and afterschool and physical education programs, as well as a school garden and agricultural science program. She facilitates nutrition presentations to parents in the English Learners Migrant Program and collaborated with cafeteria staff and student leaders to make a healthy snack list for parents. Her efforts empower students and parents to adopt healthy eating patterns. She believes:
Good nutrition is important to students' overall well-being. If students have well balanced healthy snacks and meals, their performance is better all day, they feel good, and are more engaged in their learning.
Heather Cruz has worked in Chula Vista Elementary School District as the Physical Education, Health and Wellness Coordinator for the past six years. In this role, she leads the district’s wellness committee. With the support of this committee, she has implemented programs that improve access, resources and support for the well-being of students, staff and the community. She developed a Site Wellness Leads program where each school site is represented and meets quarterly to set site-specific wellness goals and receive training and resources. Heather also initiated community partnerships to develop a resource list for wellness leads to implement activities and programs at their schools. She recently received the San Diego County Office of Education’s comprehensive health education grant to write lessons for teachers, featuring some Let’s Eat Healthy resources. Her passion for impacting well-being on a larger scale has led her to focus efforts on both students and employees. The Employee Well-Being Program empowers employees with health awareness and lifestyle skills that enhance quality of life for all district personnel. She believes:
By teaching students how to make healthy food choices, I believe we are not only impacting their health but also their academic success. We know that students who make healthy food choices come to school more alert and prepared to learn. This impact is extremely empowering for students to know that they have control over that.
Niaomi Hrepich, WIC and CalFresh Healthy Living Program Director in Monterey County, encourages her community to be healthy by improving diet quality and being active daily. Her strength is convening and promoting consistent evidence-based nutrition and wellness messaging across the county. She works collaboratively to provide consistent nutrition and physical activity messages and identify gaps in services. Through her efforts, the Let’s Eat Healthy nutrition curriculum reaches students in over 15 elementary schools in the county. She also provides nutrition education in eligible farmer’s markets, promoting CalFresh and Market Match programs. Niaomi hosts the Nutrition and Fitness Collaborative of the Central Coast, a coalition with over 40 member agencies, working collectively to promote and advocate for policies and environmental changes that foster healthy lifestyle behaviors with an emphasis on nutrition and physical activity to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases, especially for low-income families. She shared:
I believe in working together to provide consistent nutrition messages to all residents in Monterey County, helping to create healthier lifestyles and communities.
Dawn Soto is a Senior Food Service Training Specialist with the Los Angeles Unified School District Food Services Division. She develops and oversees training curriculum for over 3,500 district employees, students and parents on all subjects pertaining to school food programs, operations, nutrition education and professional development that align with professional standards requirements. Her services extend to technical assistance on education materials for 685 cafeterias, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement grants and “Choose What You Want, Eat What You Choose” nutritional student assemblies. These no-cost services are a welcome resource for schools with limited funds allotted for educational student assemblies. Dawn has collaborated with Let's Eat Healthy in numerous ways, including the creation of a unit on nutrition for staff development and themed nutrition messaging and activities for a monthly wellness newsletter to foodservice staff. She believes:
Healthy eating is really important. I encourage you to think outside the box and step outside the classroom. Reach out to your school foodservice professionals and partner with them. We have an immense opportunity to reach every single child that steps through the cafeteria doors.
Tune into the complete Let's Eat Healthy Leadership Award playlist on our YouTube channel at HealthyEating.
Learn more about the Let's Eat Healthy initiative and sign up to show your commitment for ensuring children, families and communities are supported to grow healthfully.