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Facilitating Healthy Families within your Tribal Community

Fun, family-oriented approaches to improving access to healthy, affordable foods and physical activity emerged throughout the modified Talking Circles, key informant interviews, and informal and formal meetings with Tribal Councils.  We highlight how tribes can help facilitate healthy families from policies, programs, and partnerships.

Move with Let’s Move!

The First Lady’s Let’s Move! Campaign encourages families, churches, and cities to help the nation raise a healthier generation of children.  Let’s Move Cities and Towns suggests several approaches tribes can implement within their tribal communities.  Let’s Move Faith and Communities shares possible grassroots efforts tribal leaders can partner with faith and community leaders on.  And a recent addition to the campaign, Let’s Move in Indian Country announced a call to action in Indian Country and developed a toolkit and resource guide focused on the four main goals listed below.  Contact to submit any comments or questions.  Explore Let’s Move resources and partners to identify feasible approaches your tribe can commit to!
(1)   Creating a Healthy Start on Life
(2)   Developing Healthy Schools
(3)   Increasing Physical Activity
(4)   Fostering Healthy, Comprehensive Food System Policies

Empower Parents

A key theme from the modified Talking Circles and key informant interviews is the power of parents to facilitate healthy families, healthy homes!  Help your parents understand their role and provide specific tips for how to help feed their families on a budget and promote healthy eating and active living in their households!  Studies show getting families involved helps reduce the incidence of obesity and helps improve the chance of the weight management program.  Learn more about the State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity in a report by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetics Association).

  • Consider tribally-tailored posters and Facebook messages, cooking demonstrations, child-feeding workshops, and family-fun fairs.
  • Check out We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition) program materials tailored specifically for Native American families.
  • Utilize the Indian Health Service Nutrition and Dietetics Training Program Way of the Circle manual, which provides culturally appropriate information and instructions for providing nutrition and physical activity lifestyle change training to parents, caregivers, and adolescents.  The intent of Way of the Circle training is to prevent pre-diabetes and diabetes through healthier eating and physical activity.  The curriculum focus is making “Three small, doable changes which can make a difference to me, my family, and my community.”  The purpose of the Way of the Circle manual is to provide:
  • lifestyle change interventions using self-monitoring, goal setting, problem solving, rewards and social support with an emphasis on culture;
  • progressive learning objectives and instructional strategies that develop knowledge, give practice applying the knowledge to case studies and stories, and using the knowledge in real situations;
  • detailed instructions for leading each session;
  • formative behavior change and outcome evaluation measurement tool;
  • participant handouts for all sessions in one file to facilitate printing; and
  • publicity materials for local approval as needed and recruitment.

Here’s some food for thought to get started on crafting healthy posters, messages, or texts to communicate healthful, family-oriented activities:

  • Emphasize small starts for family healthy habit changes
    • Being successful at small goals can encourage bigger and more sustained changes over time
  • Encourage families to eat healthy and be active TOGETHER
    • Craft planning tools or family-workshops to help families plan out meals and activities together
    • Schedules get hectic quickly, help families find feasible family time together around meals
    • Use word of mouth to promote online tools that provide time-saving, healthy recipes
  • Reinforce everyone should exercise every day
    • Provide consistent activity options at your tribal building like morning walks or weekend fun run
  • Avoid skipping meals and encourage 4 to 6 smaller meals and snacks
    • List healthy snack options or illustrate tribal youth eating local produce, low-fat dairy, or whole grain snack options
    • Compare and contrast healthy breakfast on the go options
  • Increase awareness about appropriate portion sizes for children and adults
    • Use visual tools, such as a computer mouse, to illustrate appropriate portion sizes
  • Discourage “clean plate clubs” and rewarding children with food
  • Promote water consumption
    • Ensure your tribal office and homes have safe drinking water
  • Reduce sodium consumption
    • Kick off Kick off the Salt Campaigns in your tribe and spread the word that foods generally have enough salt in them that families shouldn’t need to add salt.
  • Promote fruits and vegetables
    • Create fruit basket contests to ensure every family has one in their household and knows how to purchase regularly affordable, fresh produce
    • Canned and frozen produce are good alternatives to fresh.  Tribally owned and operated farmers’ markets and community gardens can help encourage fruit and vegetable access and consumption
  • Focus conservations around healthy eating and active living not around childhood obesity or weight

Promote Food and Nutrition Federal Assistance Programs for Children and Families

Tribes have an important role in increasing awareness of federal food assistance programs for eligible children and families.  Use US Department of Agriculture free resources to promote the program in your tribal building and partner with local agencies to help reduce application process burdens and increase culturally competent resources and case workers.  Key federal food assistances programs include:

  • Women, Infants, and Children
  • National School Lunch Program
  • School Breakfast Program
  • Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program
  • Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program
  • Senior Nutrition Programs (Elderly Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program),

In North Carolina, contact Veronica Wilson ( to learn about SNAP-Education funds and resources that can be utilized to support or inspire your educational endeavors!  Check out North Carolina SNAP resources.

Take advantage of new US Dietary Guidelines educational and online resources to promote healthy living within your tribal community.  Partner with your local extension offices to offer workshops on how to access and use MyPlate new resources and online tools.  Check out a recent story on the association between SNAP participation and healthier children.

School-Home Connections

Parents also want to understand their role in improving access to healthy foods and physical activity at schools.  Work with your local school district(s) to obtain copies of their local school wellness policies, which have been developed by schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to address school-level strategies to promote health and wellness in schools.   Help parents understand these policies and their potential to help ensure they are implemented, strengthened, and evaluated!  Parents can also benefit from understanding federal food assistance programs in school settings, such as the National School Lunch Program.  Tips for healthy bagged lunches and healthy snacks are also appreciated!

  • Learn more about the Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota combines culture and health in a project that teaches children of the The Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe to cook meals featuring organically-raised bison, an animal raised by their trial member and sacred in their culture.
  • Consider partnerships with after-school programs and other youth-focused organizations such as Boys & Girls Club and YMCA.
  • Explore ways to use the curriculum developed by the American Indian Center at UNC to educate K-12 students about indigenous foods and other important health related cultural stories:
  • Check out these resources and others as they emerge with best practices for healthy after school snacks and activities:  Healthy Kingston Healthy After School Snack Guidelines and National Institute on Out of School Time Best Practices for Healthy Eating and Active Living.

Healthy Cooking Activities

Parents and community members are interested in cooking demonstrations and sampling events hosted by the tribe or promoted by the tribe within the tribal community.  Cities like Riverbank, CA have been integrating family-oriented cooking lessons and demonstrations into various programs that are a part of their Get Fit Riverbank!

Explore your tribes’ current kitchen and chef capacity.  Consider partnerships with local churches, hospitals, and community venues to build a community kitchen offering regular workshops to families, youth, and elders on healthy cooking on a budget!  From Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” to more local efforts in Warren County directed by Dr. Carla Norwood at Duke University (, several communities are exploring how community kitchens can offer healthy foods to community members and instill healthy cooking skills in children, families, and elders.  Check out the first commercial kitchen to open in North Carolina through a partnership with local kitchens, chefs, farmers and a business developer.

Teaching children to cook instills healthy habits, along with confidence and life-long skills.  Consider hosting recipe contests or facilitating the compilation of a cookbook or hosting a soup swap.  A Soup Swap is a community event in which members of the community swap leftover soup and recipes, encouraging the exchange of healthy, traditional soups and stews.

Google’s Recipe View and allow users to search for recipes by ingredient or by desired calorie counts.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently created a cookbook with the aim for encouraging healthy family meals.  The US Department of Agriculture is also compiling Recipes for Healthy Kids through a recipe challenge:  Contact local culinary institutes or aspiring chefs!  Encourage your elders to pass down healthy, Native traditions and compete for the healthiest and tastiest ways to integrate healthy foods and preparation techniques in traditional foods!
Explore rich resources on cooking demonstrations, healthy recipes, tips for healthy families, and child-friendly cooking activities:

  • Cumberland County Association for Indian People Fostering Healthier Choices
  • The Native American Food for Life Program works with Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona and focuses on teaching participants to use plant-based foods to cook healthier meals.
  • Collaborative Effort with Let’s Move! to Make Healthier, MyPlate Recipes Easy to Find and Share
  • 4-H Suggestions on Effective Demonstrations
  • 4-H Suggestions on Effective Food Demonstrations
  • Arizona Nutrition Network Food Demonstration Guide
  • Montana State University Extension Service Food Safety Protocol for Food Demonstrations
  • Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Food Safety Protocol for Food Demonstrations
  • Indiana State Food Demonstration Policy
  • University of Florida Cooperative Extension Tips for Food Demonstrations
  • Hawaii Extension Food Safety for Food Demostration Checklist
  • Cornell University Extension Food Demonstration Checklist
  • University of Arkansas Powerpoint on How to Give Food Demonstrations
  • Kansas State Recipe for Successful Food Demonstrations Powerpoint
  • The Kids Cook Monday (check out their general overview)
  • Supercook
  • Super Crew
  • New Hampshire Health Department Fruit and Veggie Cookbook
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations A River of Recipes
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations A Harvest of Recipes with USDA Foods
  • Shape Up America Turkey Simple Steps to Update the Family Diet
  • FoodPlay Productions’ Tickets to FRESH Adventures
  • Native Proverbs 31 Health Project Recipe Book

Active Living

The American Indian Healthy Eating Project focused on strategies to promote healthy eating but tribes have equally as important potential to improve access to active living.  Many tribes have started to build trails or are considering regularly-supported tribal walking clubs.  Consider active living strategies while devising your plans for Healthy, Native North Carolinians and explore how you can:

  • Promote active living during tribal events
    • Stand up when applauding someone after speaking, singing, or dancing
    • Schedule short activity breaks during Tribal Council meetings or social gatherings
    • Create culturally appropriate dancing or exercises to integrate into long conferences or meetings like the Unity Conference
    • Ensure tribal youth activities integrate an activity component


Pictured above is the Sappony facilitated Native Style Instant Recess during the Unity Conference 2012 General Session 



Pictured above is Waccamaw Siouan Tribal members, Leslie Jones, Shirley Freeman, Megan Patrick and Linda Patrick taking part in the “Lets Get Moving” activities during General Assembly at the 2014 NC Indian Unity Conference. YOU GO LADIES!

  • Create, renovate, or maintain tribal playgrounds, trails, or other indoor or outdoor facilities
    • Some tribal members particularly emphasized challenges to be physical active during the winter months
    • Consider how your tribal building or partnership with churches or schools can promote access to indoor recreational options
    • Learn more about KaBOOM!–an organization who has been leading the construction of playgrounds in under-served low-income communities for over 15 years!
    • Examine a report on disparities in access to parks by race and income.

Pictured above is the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe walking trail, fund in part by a grant from Blue Cross/Blue Shield 

  • Work with local transportation agencies to ensure safe paths or trails for running, biking, and walking
    • Create maps and lists of possible routes and paths.  Set-up volunteer groups to help clean and mark existing or potential trails
    • Consider bike rides for community activities, fund raising, and cultural tourism
    • Learn from case studies in California about various ways the community worked together to promote walking.
    • Check out Built for Walking and Designing for Walkability, two resources from Public Health Law and Policy.
    • Explore resources from Safe Route to Schools on funding and policy options to ensure your child’s route to school.
    • Explore other innovative economic development ways to improve biking in your communities, which has been a hit in a number of tribal communities!
  • Ensure all playgrounds in the community have maximize accessibility
    • Work with local schools, childcare centers, and churches to encourage joint-use agreements
    • Check out resources from Public Health Law and Policy on joint use agreements.
  • Consider applying for or striving to meet the Department of Transportation Walk Friendly Community Initiatives:
  • Explore how to start a tribally-led fun race in your community and ways to motivate participation and training year round.

Pictured above is a billboard promoting the Sappony 2nd annual Trail and Fun Run

  • Explore Active Living Advocacy and Policy Toolkit Resources:  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity has identified a number of resources generated towards promoting active living and improving transportation policies and practices to promote walk-able communities and walk to school options.  In addition, the American Planning Association has a forum for planning healthy communities.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has relevant resources for creating healthy places.