UMN Trainee Spotlight: Jessica O’Connell

jessica o'connellJessica is a first-year MPH Nutrition student and dietetic intern in the coordinated master’s program at the University of Minnesota. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Science with an emphasis in Human Nutrition at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Jessica has been an MCH Nutrition Trainee since September 2018. As a trainee, she has worked on creating an Infant Feeding brief with ASPHN and the development the University of Minnesota’s Public Health Nutrition Newsletter. As a dietetic intern, Jessica has also had the opportunity to work directly with women and children from low-income and homeless families at Perspectives Inc, which she describes in this post. 

I was paired to intern with Perspectives Inc. in my first semester at the University of Minnesota. Perspectives is a human service agency that provides support to homeless and low-income families in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. My role with the organization included working with women and children in Perspectives’ commercial kitchen/dining classroom. The Kids Café program was designed to increase healthy food consumption by providing hands-on nutrition curriculum and addressing healthy food choices for children and their families. The kids are transported to Perspectives on the bus right after school. Each day, a group of kids help out in the café by preparing, serving and then eating a nutritious dinner with their peers. It’s wonderful to see the kids get excited to try new foods, whether it be parsnip fries or a black bean burger. They also become increasingly confident in the kitchen, as they practice basic cooking tasks like sautéing or chopping vegetables.

Perspectives also provides several opportunities where the mothers are invited to participate in cooking groups at the Café. Through these, they can learn how to cook new recipes or create their own recipes from the ingredients provided. Simply working alongside the mothers and having conversations with them was an integral part of providing equitable support to them through this program. This face-to-face time allowed me to create newsletter articles and other resources for them that were relevant to their needs and goals. I am passionate about reducing barriers to healthy eating, making it both simple and attainable for everyone. Because of this, I’m grateful to be part of an organization that increases access to healthy food and cooking knowledge to those who can benefit so highly.

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