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The Power of Children Cooking Healthy
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The Power of Children Cooking Healthy

The main goal of “Common Threads,” a non-profit organization, is to teach children about the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, and promote the appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking.  Common Threads fights the childhood obesity epidemic though different programs such as Small Bites and Family Cooking Class, among others, which are implemented in many schools across the country.

Royal Palm Elementary School, located in the city of Miami, is one of the schools that participates with Common Threads in this project, where 94% of the population is of Hispanic origin.

The school has a garden where children learn about planting, maintaining and harvesting vegetables that they grow, including peppers, eggplants, onions, tomatoes, carrots, beans and spices.

The “World Cuisine” program offers cooking classes, where the vegetables that are grown in the school are processed by the children for their consumption with nutritious and healthy recipes, guided by Chef Alexandra Golovac, who is in charge of teaching the children how to prepare healthy meals and learn about different cultures through the classes. The program is focused on children 8 to 10 years old who participate after school.

Jeannie Necessary, Senior Program Manager-Miami from Common Threads states that the mission of this initiative consists of providing a curriculum about nutrition for communities with scarce resources and teaching the children and their families to prepare and to eat healthy meals. “Currently we are working with 33 schools in Miami Dade County, but our goal is to reach 40 by the end of the year” she added.

She also expressed her gratitude for the support of the Miami Dade Public School District, and specifically Penny Parham, Director of Food & Nutrition and Susan Rothstein, Director of Food and Menu Management.

For her part, Martha Garcia, the College President/School Director, has actively participated in the implementation of this program, and tells us that without the help of volunteers, teachers and parents, it would not have been possible to put the program in place. She adds that: “There have definitely been many changes in the school, before we sold pizza and soda to have fund-raisers and now all of that has been eliminated. Now we only sell healthy snacks, if we sell pizzas they are whole wheat and this is well accepted by the children”.

Teacher Marcia Cardona, who has been teaching college classes for 11 years, states that in addition to the cooking classes, children are taught about different cultures through gastronomy. She expressed that: “they are given the basics about nutrition, the importance about a balanced meal, eating vegetables, fruits and the right portions”.

She also points out the importance of the parents’ involvement in nutrition education. “To teach them the benefits of exercising and good eating habits and to trying to eat the food prepared at the school, because Miami is a city with such a rich culture, we prepare healthy meals from different countries”.

To the surprise of the parents, the children are the ones who take home the message, states teacher Cardona. One of the things that creates a great impression is when a parent says: “my child asks for salad every day, or tells me not to drink soda, that we should drink water”.

Ms. Cardona assures us the changes in healthy habits motivate other family members besides the school children, because they start asking for healthier things, so parents learned from them. “The change is also seen in the food they bring; they bring more fruits and vegetables, so little by little you begin to see the difference”.

David, Carol and Daniel, all 10 years old, demonstrated their satisfaction with the project, because it taught them the benefits of eating vegetables to have a healthy life. Alejandro Valdez, 11 years old, expressed in similar terms to Isabela that he believes the project is very good because, like her, there are many children who didn’t like to eat vegetables, but in school now they have learned to eat many of them.

 

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From 2013-2014, Common Threads had the following achievements:
• Sponsored 113 schools in 5 cities.
• Reached 21,607 children and adults.
• Provided 170,600 hours of education about nutrition and health.
• Trained 221 teachers in healthy cooking classes and nutrition plans.

 

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