CORVALLIS, Ore. - Less than one-third of Oregonians eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. To address that problem, the Oregon State University Extension Service is launching an initiative to encourage low-income Oregonians to become "Food Heroes."

"Food Hero is designed to inspire people with simple and cost-effective recipes and food-planning ideas that emphasize the message that fruits and veggies - including canned and frozen - are a key part of a healthy and balanced diet," said Lauren Tobey, nutrition education program coordinator for OSU Extension.

The "Food Hero" campaign will debut in Josephine, Klamath, Lane and Marion counties with food tasting events, a grocery-shopping contest and advertisements promoting the quick and easy use of produce in a daily diet. The campaign will also feature a Web site ( that will let users create custom shopping lists and show them how to stretch their food budget. The site will also provide family-friendly, healthy recipes and offer ideas for involving children in the kitchen.

The idea for Food Hero came about after OSU conducted a survey earlier this year to assess attitudes about food. Of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) clientele, 81 percent said they wanted to serve more balanced meals. Many said they considered low-cost and high nutrition when making purchases at the grocery store. However, the survey showed households with low incomes that qualify them for SNAP benefits eat fewer fruits and vegetables than higher-income households.

As part of the campaign, SNAP-eligible Oregonians can enter a contest for a "food makeover." A nutrition expert will peek in the winner's kitchen and offer advice about grocery planning and food preparation. The winner will then shop for groceries with the consultant, trailed by a camera crew producing a video to post on the Web. The video will teach viewers how to shop for food on a budget, involve the entire family in cooking and prepare fruits and vegetables quickly and simply. The deadline for entering the contest is Aug. 31. Rules and details are at

Every weekend in September, Food Hero staffers will be at grocery stores in the four counties, distributing recipes and preparing healthy, tasty dishes for shoppers to sample. Additionally, SNAP-eligible Oregonians will have the opportunity to win a gift basket of fruits, vegetables and other useful cooking-related items. The events, which are free, are listed on the Food Hero Web site.

A diet rich in produce may reduce the risk of chronic disease, including some types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. It can also help people maintain their weight - a serious problem for Oregonians. Six in 10 of the state's adults are overweight or obese, according to a report by the Oregon Department of Human Services.

"This isn't only about weight loss and warding off potential diseases," Tobey said. "It's about encouraging a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, providing new ways to make them tasty, understanding that frozen and canned versions are just as beneficial as fresh and taking great care of your family by being a food hero."

The Food Hero campaign is funded through the SNAP nutrition education program (SNAP-Ed) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Department of Human Services and OSU Extension.

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Lauren Tobey, 541-737-1017