Jessica Hummel always knew she wanted to work with food.
Cooking has been one of her life-long passions, so when Hummel moved to Oregon a few years ago from her Michigan home, she packed up shelves and shelves of cookbooks to bring along.
"I've always loved cooking," Hummel said. "It's always been a part of me."
Hummel left her job in sales to study nutrition and dietetics at Oregon State University in hopes of a more fulfilling career aligned with her passions. "It's so important to have proper nutrition," Hummel said. "It drives me."
Hummel is now earning a masters in nutrition through Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) and plans to work as a registered dietitian with cancer patients, helping them supplement their treatment with proper nutrition, helping them take in nutrients they're having trouble getting enough of. "My goal is to support them with diet so they can get stronger and thrive," she said.
As part of the internship experience required to become a registered dietician, she assisted in the Power-Up! Nutrition program in Multnomah County schools along with OSU Extension staff in November and December 2016.
The classes are free for school districts in the Portland metro area with more than 50 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.
Along with Thanh Huynh, an OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program assistant, Hummel helped educate local youth about basic food groups, proteins, macronutrients, fats, carbohydrates and more. With fun exercises and hands-on cooking days, Hummel helped teach the youth about healthy eating choices and how those impact overall health.
Students upgraded recipes for their favorite foods with healthier ingredients. They made smoothies with plain Greek yogurt, fruits and vegetables, for example. Instead of making pancakes with the usual refined flour and topping them with sugary syrup, they made whole-grain gingerbread ones and topped them with applesauce.
"The kids would get so excited as we walked down the halls," Hummel said. "They would say, 'are you coming to my classroom? Please come see us.'"
Even middle school students, who generally pose apathy, were engaged with the information.
Hummel had never worked with youth before and was surprised how much they remembered week to week. The experience taught her clever ways to get the kids' attention and to think on her feet as the youth threw questions her way and when one time, for example, a boy stuck his finger into pureed pumpkin about to go into muffins.
Hummel received positive feedback from teachers, who said they've rarely seen students so engaged, as well as parents, who said their children were excited to try new vegetables.
Students were begging their teachers to sign up for the next class, Hummel said, and were surprised by the taste of vegetables they had never tried but thought they didn't like.
Huynh, a staff member permanently assigned to directing the Power-Up program at several Portland schools, "is so passionate about what she does and her excitement transfers to the students," Hummel said. OSU Extension "has amazing resources to use in the classroom and the instructors are so great. I appreciate everything they do for the community and their role in educating the public in health and nutrition, especially in underserved communities."
Those interested in the program can call Huynh at 503-657-7384.