A Healthy Extension

Zooming in, working out, eating right and looking ahead with Leslee Blanch and University of Idaho

Published online: Apr 12, 2021 Articles, Lifestyle Steve Smede
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For any question under the sun, you can usually find a quick and satisfying answer with a well-worded inquiry and a few clicks of the mouse. That’s especially true for the two great pillars of personal wellness: nutrition and fitness. If you’re hesitant to latch on to the latest dietary craze or celebrity-endorsed exercise routine (as you probably should be), another alternative might serve you better. It’s free, it’s research-based and it’s right here in our own community.

Meet Leslee Blanch. She’s the Associate Extension Educator for Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Idaho Extension in Bonneville County.

“At Extension, our main goal is to provide evidence- and research-based education, so you’re getting university-quality education right at the community level,” Leslee told us during our visit to the Bonneville County Extension office on East 73rd South. “We’re ‘extending’ the University of Idaho into each county. That being said, we also strive to make it available to any socioeconomic group, so if we do charge, we make it as reasonable as possible. Sometimes we’ll charge a small fee, maybe $5 if there are printing costs or food costs.”

As part of a network of county Extension offices around the state, the Bonneville county crew also includes specialists in youth programs and agriculture. Leslee’s specialty area is laser-focused on nutrition and wellness. It seems to be a perfect fit since she is a registered dietitian and is certified in group fitness. Although COVID has forced most of her work to go virtual, she has still found success in conducting group fitness, nutrition, and other wellness classes through Zoom.

In normal times, face-to-face instruction would take place at the extension office, in a school or out at a workplace for employee wellness programs. 

“I also used to hold monthly classes at Apple Athletic Club for their clients, and at the public library, but that has been on hold since March of 2020 due to COVID,” she said. 

Although the pandemic has thrown a wrench into her normal class routine, using Zoom has opened up some new opportunities as well. 

“I had to learn the Zoom format quickly, but it opened up some avenues with the state employee wellness programs. I can just send out my flyers, and people all over the state can ‘zoom in’ if they want,” she said. “In that respect it has been an advantage in that it’s extended my boundaries beyond Bonneville County. Of course, it’s just not the same interaction over a screen as it is in person.”

In addition to her work with schools and businesses, Leslee has also dived into some much-needed collaborative work with the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership. “I was able to get some training in a chronic-disease self-management program, and work with Casey Humrickhouse to provide 6-week workshops,” she said. “We’re doing one specifically on diabetes management. These are all free of charge.”

As with most folks who are passionate about their calling, Leslee’s dedication flows from a mix of professional interest and personal experience, especially in regard to nutrition.

“When I was a teenager, I was kind of obsessed with food and calories and weight — to an unhealthy degree,” she explained. “I could tell you about every calorie in every food, but I wanted to make sure I was getting my nutrients too, so when I was 16 I was really into that, and I was starting to think about college. That’s all I wanted to be—a dietitian. Finally, over the years, I worked my way out of disordered eating, but that has also helped me to be able to relate to people who have some sort of eating disorder.”

Although Leslee’s focus is nutrition and physical activity, she also dabbles in more general wellness subjects like mindfulness, as well as more specific, timely subjects like coping with COVID. Class details and availability are posted on Bonneville County Extension Facebook and the UI Extension Bonneville County website.

Of all aspects of her job, at the top of the list is prevention. Not just for chronic diseases, but also how food and movement can affect one’s mood and social relationships.

“I did many, many years of clinical work as a dietitian, where the individual is already sick and in the hospital,” she said. “Either they had never had any diet information or education, or just didn’t see the importance of it. Of course it’s important to bring people that knowledge when they’re in that condition, but how wonderful to be able to hopefully prevent them from getting there. If they’re coming to you, there’s already some degree of motivation. That makes it very rewarding.” 

For more information on the University of Idaho Extension in Bonneville County and its myriad of services, visit

uidaho.edu/extension. You can reach Leslee directly at 208-529-1390; lblanch@uidaho.edu.

4 Ways to Extend

Your Well-Being

Trying to turn over a new dietary leaf? Check out these simple tips from Leslee Blanch, University of Idaho Associate Extension Educator for Bonneville County:

1. Try to eat a lot of plant food. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, especially the latter.

2. Make sure you establish a pattern that is sustainable—something you can do for the rest of your life.

3. Go gradually; give yourself some wiggle room. As the saying goes, it’s about progress, not perfection.

4. Try the MyPlate Plan, which shows your food group targets, including what and how much to eat within your calorie allowance. Each plan is personalized based on age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level. 

For details, visit www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan.


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