NEW BRUNSWICK — You may have seen or even ordered from food trucks, or their hot dog cart forerunners. Now, there is a new vehicle roving around the state that not only nourishes people but also educates them about the food they are eating and the nutritional choices they make.

RWJBarnabas Health officially launched its Wellness on Wheels mobile education center earlier this month, and the organization's senior vice president for healthy living and community engagement, Barbara Mintz, said it brings the tasks of cooking and maintaining healthy lifestyles straight into New Jersey communities.

Mintz estimated that somewhere around 1 in 10 New Jerseyans do not know where their next meal is coming from, and yet when these disadvantaged people do get food, they are often subject to nutritional misinformation — even regarding supplements they believe provide certain health benefits.

So the Wellness on Wheels van has a demonstration hydroponic greenhouse on board, in addition to a sample kitchen and a registered dietician. As Mintz put it, you could drop a greenhouse into an underserved community, but unless that community's residents are educated, they won't know why it's there or how best to make use of it.

The van's educational component does not just target adults, either. Schools are a key demographic RWJBarnabas hopes to influence, for students and teachers alike, to try and change the culture when it comes to learning about nutrition.

"When you educate children, particularly in a school environment, you're reaching out a little bit further because you're getting to those families of those kids, even though you may not be teaching them directly," Mintz said. "If you show a child that a radish comes from a seed, or a carrot comes from a seed, it doesn't just land on a supermarket shelf, they will be more apt to try it."

Mintz repeated the age-old mantra that "we are what we eat," and that all kinds of personal choices can affect a person's health, not to mention what that person earns, where the person lives, plus environmental factors. But she stressed that education, above all, remains the foundation of being healthy.

For more about Wellness on Wheels, visit rwjbh.org.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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