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Fighting for healthy food for kids

11 April 2022

How a recent graduate is playing a key role in child nutrition policy in the United States

Posted in: Alumni, Health, Science and Technology, University

Photo of Isabella Paz Baldrich on the lawn in front of the US Congressional Building
Isabella Paz Baldrich is wrapping up a graduate fellowship on Capitol Hill, where she spent nearly nine months working to finalize the language of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act for the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor.

Montclair State University graduate Isabella Paz Baldrich ’19, BS in Nutrition and Food Science, has spent months on Capitol Hill delving into the specifics of policy work, including those designed to address food insecurity among America’s children. Contains the words of the passed law.

The 24-year-old dietitian will end a nine-month undergraduate fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) in May. As a CHCI PepsiCo Nutrition Health Graduate Fellow, she is working with the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, which oversees child nutrition programs. Paz Baldrich explains that the committee has a National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program and more. One of only 10 CHCI Graduate Fellows selected from across the country after a five-month intensive interview and selection process, she has taken a deep dive into the Child Nutrition Beautification (CNR) Act, which came to an end in 2015.

“It should have happened every five years but there have been unsuccessful attempts. So, we’re trying to do that this year, mostly because next year the Senate is going to pivot to tackle the Farm Bill,” says Paz Baldrich. “It’s the only window of opportunity that we can do that. “

Photo of Isabella Paz Baldrich on the lawn across the street from the US Congressional Building
Isabella Paz Baldrich ’19 in her role as a CHCI PepsiCo Nutrition Health graduate fellow.

In her role as a partner, Paz Baldrich is gathering input from child nutrition advocacy groups and other stakeholders to help strengthen the CNR Act. “We are trying to modernize and expand the guidelines so that more children are eligible,” she says. “Strengthening nutritional standards to align with dietary guidelines is one of our priorities.”

Paz Baldrich is passionate about food equality, especially when it comes to children and their development. She is particularly interested in expanding the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, which provides support to children up to the age of 5.

“Some kids, when they’re 5, aren’t in kindergarten, so they’re not covered under the school-meal program, so we’re going to extend this until age 6, or the first day of kindergarten. We are trying to fill that gap,” she explains.

He is also concerned with the expansion of school free-lunch programs. “Due to COVID, all children in schools are eligible for free meals. But before COVID, this was not the case; Either you paid full price, paid less or you got free food. So, one of the biggest things that we are trying to do is to make more kids eligible for free meals. This is as close as we can get to universal school meals, which would be the ideal situation.”

Paz Baldrich recently moderated a panel of health and nutrition experts on “The Effects of Food Insecurity on Child Development: Focus on Hispanic and Latino Children Living in America” ​​as part of the four-day 2022 CHCI Capitol Hill Policy Briefing Series Did.

Photo of participants in an online Capitol Hill policy meeting
In this screenshot, Montclair graduate Isabella Paz Baldrich (top row, left), now a graduate fellow on Capitol Hill, gives a virtual on “The Effects of Food Insecurity on Child Development: A Focus on Hispanic and Latino Children Living in America.” Operates the panel.

They were introduced by U.S. Representative Robert Scott, D-VA, who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, and is sponsoring the Beautification Act.

“Isabella has played and will continue to be instrumental in helping draft legislation for this beautification,” says Scott. “Our committee has been extremely fortunate that Isabella has brought her perspective not only as a CHCI graduate fellow, but also as a registered dietitian nutritionist. Isabella’s studies as an undergraduate nutrition major at Montclair State University Through this, he began to understand the complexities associated with food equity and the role of government in tackling food insecurity.

“All of Paz Baldrich’s experience as a young child in a free lunch program and her studies in nurturing,” says Scott, “are absolutely valuable in all legislative work.”

A Dietitian Goes to Washington

Shortly after arriving for her fellowship in Washington, D.C., Paz Baldrich arrived to thank her former professor, Lauren Dinour. “That’s why I’m here,” says Montclair Grade.

“I was so excited to hear that she had received this fellowship, and that she was executing on her education,” says Dinaur, an associate professor of Nutrition and Food Studies. Meal. “I was looking forward to hearing more.” So she invited Paz Baldrich to speak on campus.

Paz Baldrich earned top grades and a few scholarships, Dinour recalls. However, “the most impressive thing about Isabella was her willingness to use her bilingual skills,” says Dinour. “She was one of two students who volunteered to work with the Center of Excellence for Latino Health, which is part of the Clara Mas Medical Center. She developed nutrition education workshops in Spanish and delivered them in Spanish. did, which was pretty impressive, considering we don’t teach our nutrition courses in spanish.

Dinour’s classroom touches on food insecurity and nutrition programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Most of her nutrition students focus on helping people face-to-face or in small groups. “They come into nutrition without thinking about policy … and understand the role of policy in our daily lives,” Dinaur says. “Therefore, what I try to get at in this course is the role and importance of policy, but also our ability to influence policy as citizens of the United States, as professionals of the future, as advocates. There’s also potential.”

One assignment requires students to analyze an existing bill in the state legislature or Congress and write the letter, which Dinour says she encourages her students to send, even though it is often difficult to receive a response. Takes a long time

“You should let them know how you feel, either as a resident or as someone who cares deeply about these issues because your patients or clients may be affected,” Dinaur says.

It was this letter-writing work that first sparked Paz Baldrich’s interest in public policy. This wasn’t the only time he wrote to a representative. After graduating at RWJ Barnabas Health’s Clara Maas Medical Center and doing a dietary internship, Paz Baldrich earned a master’s in science and nutrition at St. Elizabeth University, where she had a similar letter-writing assignment.

Although he interviewed individual Congress leaders to work with, he opted to serve on the House Committee because of his nutritional background.

Isabella Paz Baldrich speaking in front of the classroom
Isabella Paz Baldrich talks to students in Associate Professor Lauren Dinour’s community nutrition class.

Paz Baldrich returned to campus this spring to talk to students in Dinour’s community nutrition class about the need for dieticians on Capitol Hill.

“I’m here to tell you that we need more dietitians and more nutrition professionals who make nutrition policy, because the people who make these policies are not experts in nutrition,” Paz Baldrich told Busy Square.

Her speech in Dinour’s class was a full-circle moment for Paz Baldrich, who had professorships for two classes, including a community nutrition course, in spring 2019.

Isabella Paz Baldrich speaking in a class at Montclair State University
Associate Professor Lauren Dinour and students listen to guest lecturer Isabella Paz Baldrich as she share her policy work on the US House Committee on Education and Labor, which oversees child nutrition programs.

food was in his future

Paz Baldrich, who was born in Cali, Columbia, and grew up in Bud Lake, New Jersey, remembers receiving free lunches in elementary school. While she doesn’t remember the stigma that sometimes affects young children on the show, she does remember experiencing a sort of cultural conflict. She grew up on a diet rich in beans and pulses and other food items which were not easily available in her school cafeteria.

“When you didn’t have money for lunch or you forgot it, they’d give you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” she recalls, shaking her head. “Being Latina, I had never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I hated it. So it was very unfortunate for me because I couldn’t really eat it.”

Having grown up watching Food Network daily, it should come as no surprise that Paz Baldrich would take up nutrition as a career. She enjoyed cooking with her grandparents or on her own, following a recipe and aspired to be a chef at a time.

“My dream was to go to the Culinary Institute of America because I wanted to be an executive chef,” she remembers with a laugh. “Then I realized I would hate cooking for a living. I do this because I like to cook for myself.”

“I think it’s valuable for alum to share about her experience and hopefully inspire a new class of dietitians of the future. It’s important for students to hear from their near-partners about their experience and where they are at.” And it’s also great to hear what their path has been like so far and how they’ve used what they’ve learned to get to where they are.”

It’s important to know what you don’t want

Despite Paz Baldrich’s success on Capitol Hill, she hopes to eventually find a job working for a non-profit organization where she can focus on nutrition education, especially among the Latino community.

“I’ve seen the inequalities that our community faces,” she says. “I want to focus more on framing nutrition education for populations with an emphasis on cultural foods, because many times dietitians don’t really understand the different cultural foods we have. It’s a whole other world. I’m not going to understand Japanese culture, for example, as much as I’m going to understand my own, right? It’s not their fault, it’s not their knowledge.”

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos courtesy of Amaris Benavidez, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and Jessica Karsik.

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