Davidson and Bennett: Group keeping Western community FRESH

As the school year unfolds, students begin to focus primarily on their schoolwork and tend to neglect other needs such as sleep, stress relief, exercise and healthy eating. Since overall well-being affects academic status, it is crucial students pay attention to their health, particularly their eating habits.

Healthy eating habits can help improve other aspects of well-being, such as reducing stress and assisting in improving sleep habits to promote better rest. The concern to be addressed then is, how does one find the time to learn about healthy eating or how to cook healthy meals?

Fortunately, FRESH (Food Resources and Education for Student Health) can help.

FRESH is a peer-nutrition education program at Western designed by students, for students. The program functions under the supervision of faculty advisors Food and Nutritional Sciences professors Paula Dworatzek and June Matthews, both of Brescia University College, as well as Hospitality Services Nutrition Manager Anne Zok.

The program uses multiple strategies to empower students with better food skills and enhance their knowledge of food and nutrition. Current strategies include:

  • FRESH ED, a program that increases students’ knowledge of healthy eating through peer education sessions and hands-on cooking demonstrations;
  • FRESH Approved, a program that highlights healthier menu options in residences;
  • FRESH4U, a program that provides students with healthier options when on-the-go;
  • FRESH Fruit, Salad and Dairy Cards, a frequent-buyer program which promotes fruit, vegetable and dairy consumption; and
  • Healthier 4U, a program that highlights healthier options in vending machines.

FRESH also provides students with facts and tips about nutrition and physical activity using various social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter and website, freshu.ca.

Originating from an MScFN grad class project, FRESH has grown substantially since its launch in the fall of 2012. In addition to hosting interactive displays in campus residences, FRESH Peer Educators have been invited to provide numerous interactive cooking demonstrations and nutrition information sessions in the University Community Centre and various locations throughout campus.

In 2013, FRESH Club membership increased to 50 peer educators and seven executive members, largely due to the substantial increase in requests for FRESH ED events. FRESH’s social media presence also continues to increase each year.

In April 2014, FRESH advisors were awarded a $50,000 grant to implement FRESH at Oakridge Secondary School in London. Invited presentations on the FRESH program were also given at numerous conferences during the summer of 2014, from Ottawa (Dietitians of Canada), to Baltimore (National Association of College and University Food Service Association), to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City (UN DPI/NGO Conference). Attendees of the FRESH presentation were given FRESH T-shirts and lunch bags, which are now being proudly worn and used in various places around the world, such as Switzerland, Taiwan, Japan, Guyana, Nigeria, the United States, Italy, Ireland and Australia. FRESH advisors have also been invited to speak about the FRESH program at the Ontario University College Health Association conference held at McMaster University. 

Recently, FRESH partnered with Living Well at Western to promote healthy eating among Western students and staff, and FRESH nutrition tips appear daily on the Living Well at Western webpage. In May 2015, FRESH participated in a nutrition presentation to staff at Western on maximizing energy levels throughout the day. FRESH also hosted a cooking demonstration in conjunction with the Sustainability Manager on an Understanding your Food Systems panel discussion, where participants were actively involved in making salads, crepes and omelettes.

FRESH now has 40 peer educators and 10 executive members. This year, FRESH has already received numerous requests for FRESH ED sessions and will continue to accept requests throughout the academic year. To request a FRESH ED session, view journal articles/media posts or to learn more about the program, please visit freshu.ca.

Katey Davidson serves as Lead Coordinator and Erica Bennett as Assistant Coordinator for FRESH (Food Resources and Education for Student Health.