Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mean, Lean, or Teen Cuisine

We have all heard and read about the challenge of childhood obesity that this country is facing. It appears that after-school might be a good place to address two of the underlying causes of this “epidemic”. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Although there are some genetic and hormonal causes of childhood obesity, most of the time it's caused by kids eating too much and exercising too little.” This is not a surprise to any of us, but what might we do to change this?
Let’s take a look at the first half of the equation—eating. How can after-school support better food choices? What resources are available for after-school programs? If you wonder if education can make a difference, look at the efforts to recycle. Thirty years ago, recycling was something other people did. Today, recycling efforts are everywhere. If you don’t recycle at home and at work, you feel guilty. This is the result of steady and consistent education. The same thing can happen with educating people about the food choices they make. The effects are already building.
Instead of focusing on all of the food choices that youth make, let’s just focus on one—eating 5 fruits or vegetables each day. How can we support this simple change? First, you might want to take a look at the snacks served in your program. How many times each week or month do you find fruit or vegetable in that snack? If not often, who might you talk with and have a discussion with about different snack choices? Remember, that if you are talking with a food services person, they are in the business of feeding youth and they are as interested in nutrition as you are.
Secondly, what programs and resources are available for you to utilize in your program that would allow you to focus on 5 fruits or vegetables a day? One of the best, in my opinion, is Harvest of the Month. Harvest of the Month is supported by the Network for a Healthy California/Champions for Change program. The premise is simple: educate Californians about the fruits and vegetables grown in the state and feature these products, one per month, during the harvest cycle. The objectives of this program focus on access to fruits and vegetables, helping young people develop a preference for fruits and vegetables, increasing knowledge about California-grown fruits and vegetables, and then of course, they encourage increased physical activity. To promote this they have four, easy to access on the web, monthly elements: Educator Newsletters, Family Newsletters (translated already), Menu Slicks, and Press Release Templates.
The Educator Newsletter gives you information about the highlighted fruit or vegetable and a number of things that you can do to help young people learn about the produce. Highlights for kids include the Taste Test, Cooking in Class, and the Fun Facts about the produce. The Family Newsletters will provide information for the families about what you are studying and encourage them to support the effort. This newsletter is available in both English and Spanish. The Menu Slick resembles the place mat that you will find in restaurants, and features activities and information to engage the youth. The website also connects to the California State Standards. To ensure that you do not repeat year after year, you have a choice of A or B tracks so you can alter the fruits and vegetables you are featuring. If you are at a school that features Harvest of the Month, talk with classroom teachers and determine if it would be best to reinforce what they are doing in class, or if you should take the alternate track in the after-school program.
You can find more information about Harvest of the Month at their website: or by contacting them at:
California Department of Public Health,
Cancer Prevention and Nutrition Section
P.O. Box 997413, MS 7204
Sacramento, CA 95899-7413

One more thing, for older youth, turn this into a club activity. They will be eager to show up for any club that gives them the opportunity to eat (learning and preparation are often a secondary motivation).

Not so usual celebrations…
While July 7th is National Strawberry Sundae Day, it just seems like today is a perfect one for featuring the strawberry. So, since there is no Congressional record of the National Day being the 7th, I’ve taken the liberty of sharing it with you on the day after. (Maybe I was affected by I Forgot day earlier this month!) Strawberry Sundae Day--what a great way to highlight the strawberry and get kids to eat one of those 5 fruits or vegetables needed each day. This will give kids an opportunity to eat one of America’s favorite fruits. During this time of year, strawberries are readily available in stores and you may even have a Strawberry Festival in your program to add to the interest. (Communities have Strawberry Festivals—especially along the coast and in Southern California). To highlight this day, have kids learn a few Strawberry Facts.
“Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside of their skin, about 200 on each berry.
Strawberries are members of the large, diverse rose family (Rosaceae) which also includes blackberries and raspberries.
In some parts of Europe, people once believed elves could control how much milk cows produced and that the elves loved strawberries. Farmers tied baskets of strawberries to their cows' horns as an offering to them.
"The largest strawberry in history weighed 8.17 ounces and was the size of a big apple.”*
Strawberry Sundaes:
Have youth prepare the strawberries—wash, remove the stem, slice or smash. This time of year there is little need to add sugar.
Have kids take a scoop of ice cream (vanilla is recommended but not the only choice) and then ladle on the strawberries—YUM! If you would like to top off the sundae with whipped cream, the kids will love it.

* Wonder Time

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