First 5 Lex Partner Spotlight: UK Dietetics

We are in the midst of a blog series to show appreciation for our community partners and supporters! Today, we get to TALK with Dr. Courtney Luecking, an assistant professor and extension specialist in food and nutrition at the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky. She works with other faculty in the department as well as a team of specialists in areas such parenting, family health, physical activity and financial management, to support Family & Consumer Science Agents in the University’s Cooperative Extension Service. Courtney’s role on the team is to emphasize the importance of good nutrition and healthy eating during the first 5 years of a child’s life and support programming that encourages healthy eating from the prenatal stages through preschool. If you’re interested in learning more about Cooperative Extension’s programming, click here to view their Healthy at Home newsletter and reach out to your local county Cooperative Extension office.

Let’s learn more about UK Dietetics in our question and answer session with Courtney!

Can you tell us about your organization’s community outreach? What role has your organization played in the community?

We all do different things for community outreach through the department. For example, students who are part of Campus Kitchen go glean and recover food that might otherwise be thrown out and then repurpose it as free meals to students on campus or as packaged meals for our community partners. That way, we can give food that would have otherwise gone to waste to people who need it. That’s one of many examples of the community outreach we do.

What kinds of programming do you provide for children and families?

I personally do professional development for childcare providers that is focused on nutrition and physical activity. Our Family and Consumer Science Agents offer a wide variety of programming for families, caregivers and children.

The University also has the Kentucky Nutrition Education Program , a nutrition and education program that teaches resource management to individuals and families who receive SNAP benefits. There are usually about 7 classes that focus on topics such as food procurement, how to make the most of the resources you have, how to make healthy choices, basic cooking preparation, food safety and nutrition. Sometimes we do these programs with childcare centers as well.

How long has your organization been part of the First 5 community team?

I personally joined the team a year ago when I moved to Lexington.

Why was partnering with First 5 Lex a logical fit for your organization?

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like an obvious connection, but when you’re talking about kindergarten readiness and supporting family interaction and engagement, that kind of thing naturally happens every day around food. Good nutrition is important for brain development, so we want to make sure that children have access to high-quality nutrition early in life because that will have both short and long-term effects on health and development.

Why do you think the First 5 message - to read, talk, and play with little ones each day- is so important?

As a parent of a preschooler, sometimes we feel like we don’t know where to start or what to do, but a simple message can help by providing good directions as to what you can do with your child to have a meaningful impact. It’s relatively easy to do, you don’t need anything special.

In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?

I’m pretty new to Kentucky, and during the past several months I have been at home, but prior to that I was able to become affiliated with First 5 Lex and learn about what they stand for. I then started seeing First 5 Lex’s signs, prompts and opportunities about how to engage with children. One thing I found really neat is how people in Lexington pool their resources and aim to support each other instead of compete with each other. There’s a synergy of efforts instead of a competition.

How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 in the future?

We are just getting started and we’re so excited to continue to explore and keep our eyes open for any opportunities that may present themselves. We hope to be able to do more video partnerships and maybe share some footage of staff and students helping families learn and spend time in the kitchen.


Just for fun:

What is your favorite children’s book to READ?

It’s hard to pick just one, but we love the Questioneers Collection by Andrea Beaty with Ada Twist, Scientist, Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Sofia Valdez, Future Prez. The stories just flow nicely and have great messages.

If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?

I would just get outside and go to the playground with my daughter.

If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

I’ve always loved talking to people who know more than I do or have lived more life than I have. But I just have a huge admiration for Michelle Obama. I just love what she stands for and what she has done for people close to her and across our country.

Thank you to Courtney and everybody at UK Dietetics who is working to make positive change throughout the Commonwealth!

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