Feature Article - February 2017
Find a printable version here

Teaching Healthy Eating

Connecting Communities to Healthier Lifestyles

By Dave Ramont

Community Education

The Kitchen Community (TKC) is a nonprofit group working to improve the health of students and communities by creating garden-based education opportunities through the use of their Learning Gardens, which they design and manufacture. Learning Gardens are outdoor classrooms and productive edible gardens installed in underserved schools. They're made up of modular, raised beds and include benches, a shade structure, boulders and art poles. Each one is uniquely designed to fit the look, feel and style of each school yard.

They're currently working in six regions—Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, Memphis, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh—with the goal of having at least 100 gardens in each community. This allows them to work more efficiently and hopefully accelerate a shift in food culture within a community. They hope to expand to four more regions by 2020.

But The Kitchen Community's involvement doesn't end after the garden is built. It also provides the school with ongoing support to ensure that they fully benefit from the gardens, including providing teachers with training and a curriculum so they feel confident using the space as an outdoor classroom. Plus, the group's regional teams are dedicated to supporting local gardening and student nutrition education as a whole, and if space is available, workshops may be open to the larger garden community.

Another nonprofit, Fit2beKids, aims to help kids and families lose weight, eliminate medications, and change their behavior by participating in their Fit 'N Fun Club activities, community walks, and culinary and nutrition education. And now, they've partnered with Pevo Health Solutions, a major stakeholder in Global Growables Inc., to help fight childhood obesity. The new program includes classroom and after-school curriculum from Fit2beKids, combined with a Mobile Growable Unit (MGU) to be placed at the school. The MGU is a hydroponic indoor container garden that grows as much as an acre of land, uses 10 percent of the water, and produces up to 15,000 pounds of fresh produce a year. The MGU can feed kids and their families, plus a mechanism is provided to sell the crops at farmers markets and to local chefs, with the funds used to pay any expenses. Any excess cash can be used to fund school programs.

Parks and recreation departments also work to educate families on healthier living practices. The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) assists parks with many initiatives, including its Commit to Health campaign. Part of this program includes nutrition literacy curriculum, Commit to Health: Foods of the Month, designed specifically for parks agencies to implement at their sites. The curriculum's materials are free and downloadable, and include lesson plan guides, posters, a newsletter with tips and recipes, and other activities and resources.

The NRPA has also teamed up with the Partnership for a Healthier America and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to assist at least 2,000 parks and recreation sites with pledges to achieve the Healthy Eating, Physical Activity (HEPA) standards over a five-year period. Resources, tools and support are provided through the Alliance's Healthy Out-of-School-Time (HOST) Initiative website. The 19 HEPA standards are a subset of standards and best practices adopted by the National AfterSchool Association, based on the best available evidence of programs, policies and practices shown to positively impact healthy eating and physical activity behaviors among youth.

Early research involving children, parents and staff who've participated in the Commit to Health and HEPA programs showed that kids exhibited significant increases in knowledge of nutrition topics. Evaluations also revealed that kids and parents alike reported increases in consumption of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Cooking and plating habits improved as well. Staff confirmed that many parents and children shared that their eating habits had changed throughout the programming.

Additionally, the Walmart Foundation provided the NRPA $2.5 million to increase the number of healthy meals that children in low-income communities receive through the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program during out-of-school times. The funding will also help implement NRPA's Commit to Health programs.

While there's more work to be done and people to reach, it's nice to know that communities, schools and other organizations are combatting food insecurities and working to educate people about nutrition and healthier lifestyles. As Sir Winston Churchill put it, "There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies."