Febe Hernandez, a 29-year-old mother of two young boys, was carrying around some extra pounds when she decided on Dec. 21, 2013, to become healthier.
Hernandez signed up for nutrition and cooking classes near her home in a rural area outside Idaho Falls. She learned about fiber, calories and food tricks, such as using honey or Stevia sweetener instead of refined sugar.
She swapped out Cocoa Puffs and Fruit Loops for Cheerios and granola. She made spinach pancakes topped with strawberries. She discovered that if she shaped a side of plain, unfried rice into a heart and adorned it with ketchup, her 3- and 8-year-old sons would eat it.
Hernandez and her husband immigrated from Mexico, having moved to Idaho for jobs in agriculture.
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Their family is in a demographic that a new pilot project aims to help: migrant and seasonal farmworker families in Southern Idaho. Children in those families are far more likely than average to be obese or overweight.
The Community Council of Idaho, a nonprofit that runs Head Start programs, said 34.4 percent of its 468 preschoolers are overweight or obese - a rate three times the statewide average for low-income preschool-age children.
"One of the factors that contributes to that are parents with low education levels," said Rebecca De Leon, communications director for the council.
Between only 3 percent and 6 percent of the parents of preschoolers in the council's Head Start program have a high school-equivalent education or higher, according to Sara San Juan, director of the council's Migrant Seasonal Head Start program.
"Most of our families are immigrants to the country and working in the fields," she said. "Jobs are low-paying, which leads to families living in poverty. ... Most people in poverty, when they're trying to make their dollar stretch, the least healthy food is the cheapest to access."
That's not necessarily true, if parents know how to shop for and prepare healthy foods. But that knowledge is lacking among seasonal and migrant farmworkers, San Juan said.
"They are going to buy the processed food, the foods that are quick to make, because they don't know any other way," she said.
The council will use a $200,000 grant from Cambia Health Foundation, the Portland-based corporate foundation of Regence BlueShield of Idaho's parent company, to start building an obesity prevention and healthy living curriculum that focuses in large part on teaching parents to prepare healthy foods and get children moving.
"When we looked at how serious this health issue is within our state's Hispanic community and considered how thorough the Community Council was in its planning to improve the situation, we knew this was a winning proposition," said Scott Kreiling, a Cambia Health board member.
The Hispanic population in Idaho and elsewhere is more likely than other groups to have certain weight and health problems. For instance, Hispanics are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanics and 50 percent more likely to die of it, according to the federal Office of Minority Health.
In Idaho, Hispanic households are 65 percent more likely to be "food insecure" - meaning it's hard for them to access healthy and affordable food - than the average household, according to a June 2014 University of Idaho report.
The Caldwell Head Start preschool program is a pilot site for the project.
This year, the program will partner with the University of Idaho to gather baseline data. Next year, the program will be refined based on first-year outcomes, and the council will spread it more widely across the Southern Idaho region - from Weiser to Idaho Falls.
Hernandez, whose youngest son is in an Eastern Idaho Head Start program, made food changes in her household before the project launched. The Community Council of Idaho sees her as a promising example of what's possible.
A year after she decided to feed her family healthy meals, Hernandez had dropped 35 pounds. She spends more on ingredients but ends up wasting less food, and she discovered it's faster to cook healthy meals than to cook traditional Mexican comfort food, she said.
Her older son had been a little overweight. Now he's in better shape and brings home the school lunch menu so that she can send him with a homemade lunch on "hamburger days," she said.
She began an exercise routine, taking the children at 6 a.m. every morning for a walk or run at the local school. When it's cold or snowy, they play a "Zumba Kids" exercise game on the Xbox at home.
Those are the sorts of habits she and the council want to instill in migrant and seasonal farmworker communities.
"Being Mexican, our culture didn't teach us to eat healthy always, or there wasn't an option to eat that way," Hernandez said. "I don't want my kids to go through what I went through being overweight."
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey