Texas Christian University's Healthy Frogs program is meeting students where they are

Texas Christan University’s nutrition education program has been revamped to provide a holistic approach to health and wellness with the goal of meeting students where they’re at in their nutrition education journey.
Students at the allergy-free bake off
The Healthy Frogs team recently held an allergy-free bake off. | Photo courtesy of Texas Christian University.

A student-survey from last semester revealed that students at Texas Christian University (TCU) have noted a significant increase in satisfaction with dining options, education about nutrition and feeling like they have access to healthy food on campus. How did the dining team do it? The team cultivated a focus on nutrition education through its revamped Healthy Frogs program. The program takes a holistic approach to wellness, spreading education in every area including general healthy eating, sports nutrition and mental health. And the main goal behind the revamped program is meeting students where they are.

“When I stepped into this role, my main goal was that I wanted to utilize campus partnerships and especially student involvement to make sure that this was a truly student led program that was made by the students for the students and would help to benefit students in every area of wellness,” said Maddie Jacobs, campus dietitian at TCU.

Jacobs was able to accomplish this goal by connecting with various campus partners such as the Mental Health Center and the Rec Center.

“Getting all these connections made sure that we were able to meet students where they were in every area of wellness, and really make it a more comprehensive program than it's ever been,” said Jacobs.

Here’s a deep dive into the Healthy Frogs program and a look at how Jacobs and her team built out a comprehensive nutrition education program.

A focus on holistic wellness

While the program first launched in 2020, Jacobs only recently transitioned to her role as campus dietitian. Prior to that she worked as a dining intern. She also attended undergraduate and graduate school at the university.

In the past, Healthy Frogs was a purely student-led program, but having a campus dietitian overseeing its efforts adds a degree of creditability to the program, said Jacobs.

“Now that I am leading the program that helps to add some added credibility to the education and having a health professional behind all of this," she said.

She also comes to the program with an interesting perspective as a prior student that allows her to help cultivate the next generation of leadership.

Jacobs said she often recruits students at events, and some of those students become Healthy Frogs' biggest advocates in many ways. They attend every meeting, eager and with ideas.  And the program provides a valuable opportunity for professional development through internship opportunities.

“This internship has opened my eyes to the different career paths I can take as a nutrition student. Through these experiences, I’ve had the opportunity to build skills to prepare me for my professional career in dietetics,” said Amelia Heimerman, junior health and wellness Intern for TCU Dining, in a statement.

The team started the semester with the goal of creating a holistic program that encompasses all areas of wellness. One effort that showcases this goal is the Wellness Fair. The team hosted the fair at the beginning of last semester to showcase all the resources available to students and further spread the word about the Healthy Frogs program.

“[The Wellness Fair] had all of these different departments in one place. So, it was like a one-stop shop for wellness for students,” said Jacobs, “which was really impactful because they were able to connect to a bunch of different resources at once and really feel like they had everything they needed right here on campus which is very important for students.”

Spreading access to nutrition education

The team has been busy at work spreading nutrition education to students in all aspects. Another initiative they put together recently was post-workout snack boxes in partnership with the Rec Center.

“So, helping students with their post workout recovery, connecting with them with the exercise and the nutrition component,” said Jacobs.

And the team has held various cooking classes with different groups. Last semester, the team even held an allergy-free bake-off competition. Students were encouraged to create allergy-free recipes and the winner’s recipe was then featured in the university’s allergy free kitchen.

This initiative was particularly impactful for students with dietary restrictions, said Jacobs.

“A lot of these students were students who had food allergies, or they had friends who had food allergies, and so they had a very deep emotional investment in this program,” she said. “And making sure that they were able to make things that were delicious and helpful for the students who may have gone their entire lives not being able to eat desserts because they were gluten-free or these different things and so really it was very emotional for them.”

Using feedback from students

Jacobs and her team were strategic in the areas they chose to focus on. Back when she was a dining intern, Jacobs put together a survey asking students the question, what does wellness mean to you?

Jacobs and her team used those survey responses to build out the Healthy Frogs program.

“And so, for instance, students had placed large emphasis on mental health as they do nationwide that's becoming increasingly important,” she said. “So, we took that and we created the Wellness Fair, we created these activities that tied in how nutrition impacts your mental health, how nutrition impacts your ability to be successful academically, all those things.”

Other areas of importance that the team noticed were general healthy eating and sports nutrition. And the team took these areas into consideration while working on partnerships such as the post-workout snack box.

Using social media

Another way the team is working on spreading nutrition education is through its Instagram account, which has an active presence.

The Instagram account also provides an area for professional development as interns on the Healthy Frogs team get the opportunity to work on the account.

The team posts five times a week with themed posts on different days. For instance, on Mondays the team follows the theme of Mindful Monday, and they provide nutrition education on the topic of the week. On Wednesdays the team posts recipes, alternating between dorm-friendly recipes and other recipes that require more kitchen equipment.

The goal behind this is ensuring they’re reaching all students, regardless of if they live on campus or off.

And Fridays are all about spreading awareness about access to nutrition education. For instance, the team may showcase where on campus they can find allergy-friendly meals.

“It's a progression of education and then application so education and applying at home and then applying on campus,” said Jacobs.

Moving forward, the team hopes to focus on personal agency and improving students’ confidence as it comes to healthy eating.

The survey they conducted at the beginning of the semester revealed there are still room for improvement in those areas.

“They felt like they knew how to eat healthy, but they just felt like there were still a lot of barriers to them for actually living the lifestyle that they wanted to live,” said Jacobs. “And so, for this spring semester we've really doubled down on increasing personal agency, like increasing that tangible belief in those tasks.”

The team hopes to improve in these areas by increasing the number of cooking classes held and hosting virtual classes for more access. They are also conducting workshops with students who have dietary restrictions and increasing the amount of peer education events.

“Because when students hear from other students, it becomes much more personal to them. They feel a little more like it's realistic in what we're asking them to do,” said Jacobs. “So, recruiting more and more students to be part of my team and having them help to deliver the education.”




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