The Food For Thought Program is funded through the Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program and supported by the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR). The goal of this program is to support pregnant women to improve the health of themselves and their families through good nutrition. Our guiding principles put mothers and their babies first, focus on the strengths in the family, stress equity and accessibility and rely on partnerships in the SHR and the community. The women who attend this program belong to a vulnerable population. They live in poverty, may abuse alcohol or drugs, or have a history of past use. Many of the women struggle with Mental Health issues. They may be living in situations of domestic violence and many have histories of violence or sexual abuse. Many are new immigrant or refugees dealing with isolation related to culture and language. The Food For Thought (FFT) team members help the women address these issues by advocating for them, providing emotional support, assisting with referrals to Mental Health and Addiction Services or other resources. The team also builds relationships with the women, allowing them to feel safe, respected and empowered. The kitchen is used as the venue to deliver health information, to break down isolation, and to provide support. Most women feel comfortable in a kitchen even if they don’t have a lot of experience with food preparation. The women remember time spent with aunts, grandmothers or mothers preparing food and the stories that emerge from these memories create a bond between the women. Each session is facilitated by a Nutritionist, a Health Educator and assisted by a Program Assistant. During the session a healthy snack is prepared and shared by the participants while they listen and take part in an interactive session that delivers health information on a variety of topics and a meal is also prepared that is shared and sent home for the family to enjoy. Transportation and child care are provided. The FFT Program uses a Peer Leader Model to deliver the program. When a participant demonstrates leadership skills and models healthy behavior with her peers, she is invited to become a Peer Leader. Leaders are provided with ongoing and regular training, including Food Safe Certification, and are paid an honorarium. They act as advisors, they provide input into decision making about the program and are seen as role models by the participants. The Peer Leaders are provided with on-going support as many of them continue to live in poverty and with struggles similar to the other participants. Their openness about their own challenges can be valuable for the women as they see that despite the challenges, the Peer Leaders are valued in our program and have an important contribution to make to a team. The Peer Leader model has been effective at moving women into paid employment, community involvement and education. The program is formally evaluated every year. The evaluation has demonstrated that participants experience reduced isolation, increased initiation and duration of breastfeeding, improved maternal and infant health, and increased incidence of health birth weights. These health outcomes are all important to the women who attend the program and to the community in general.
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