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Just What Is EFNEP?

By Cassandra Silveira, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition

When I first saw the job posting for an EFNEP Extension Educator, I thought to myself, “EF-what?!?” I imagine a lot of community agencies and the general public might have a similar reaction when they see that acronym.

But when I dug a little deeper, I learned that the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is one of the oldest nutrition education programs in the United States. EFNEP was started by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1968 and operates in all 50 states and some territories. EFNEP started out using a home visit one-on-one model, which has largely been discontinued.

Today, EFNEP provides an experiential learning experience — there are often good smells coming from an EFNEP classroom! What’s more, participants acquire the knowledge and skills to make behavior changes aimed at improving their family’s diet and well-being. Additionally, participants learn how to incorporate more physical activity into everyday living.

Minnesota is also known for being a relatively innovative state. In 1979, it was one a small group of states that piloted EFNEP education for individuals and families receiving food stamps. Guess what that program is now called? If you guessed SNAP-Ed, you would be right! University of Minnesota Extension offers both EFNEP and SNAP-Ed programming, both of which have similar goals. Here are some parallels between EFNEP and SNAP-Ed:
  • Both programs serve limited income audiences. EFNEP places particular emphasis on working with families with children and low-income youth.
  • Both programs deliver nutrition education through a series of classes. EFNEP mandates 10 hours of instruction that can be taught over several weeks to a few months.
  • Both programs serve diverse populations. At least 72 percent of all EFNEP adults are people of color.
So what are the differences?
  • EFNEP uses a peer paraprofessional model to educate and connect with their audience. In Minnesota, our educators are called Community Nutrition Educators (CNEs). CNEs cover a range of topics in their classes — food safety, how to stretch your food dollars, and creative ways to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet are just some of the themes covered.
  • EFNEP CNEs are able to leverage the insight and knowledge of their communities to establish relationships with a single agency to set up classes. For some of our CNEs, the relationships lead to referrals to teach at other agencies. Some of the locations that EFNEP might work at include subsidized housing sites, adult education agencies, food shelves and workforce centers.
  • EFNEP uses both pre- and post-participant 24-hour dietary recalls and behavior checklists. Data are shared with participants so they can see how they have made changes to their diet, as this graphic shows:
Image from 2013 Impacts: The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

I was pleased to join the EFNEP team December 2014. Historically, EFNEP operated throughout the state of Minnesota, but within the past year, we are focusing our efforts in Hennepin, Ramsey and southern Anoka counties. If you’d like to find out more about EFNEP, or how your agency can partner with us, please send me an email at or visit Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.
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