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Healthy eating can be affordable, too
Yuba City Unified students, parents team for culinary education in after-school nutrition program
Can a bowl of fruit and lettuce be one step in teaching kids to eat healthy?
"I've seen a lot of our students going to a 7-Eleven and other stores like that to buy food after school. I've also seen them taking food from school because they don't have any at home," said Linda Sherrin, coordinator of Before and After School Programs for the Yuba City Unified School District.
"To address that, I wanted there to be some kind of class for families and students where they could learn about really simple, inexpensive ways to make snacks at home. I also wanted them to learn as a family so they could start cooking as a family," she said.
Linda's solution was to write for a grant to request funds from the Network for a Healthy California. When that money arrived in October, she got right to work. "I decided to start the program for fourth- and fifth-graders at the four lowest socio-economic schools in the district — King Avenue, Park Avenue, Bridge Street and Gray Avenue (elementary schools)."
The school district's Wellness Committee is firmly behind the program — labeled Families Fit Together.
"It's no secret that obesity rates in the U.S. are through the roof. Obesity often leads to heart disease, diabetes and other serious conditions, causing major issues not only for the individual but also for taxpayers who support the health care system. This is one of the reasons that the YCUSD board includes student wellness as one of the goals for our school district," wrote Sharman Kobayashi, school governing board member and member of the district's Wellness Committee, in an email.
"Families Fit Together is just one way that schools are encouraging students to lead a healthy lifestyle that helps them to succeed in school. And when students eat healthy foods and get enough exercise, they are building a foundation for a healthy future not only for themselves but for society," Kobayashi added.
The program is about more than just food. It's also exercise and working with the families to help them understand how to eat well and be healthy — all without spending too much.
The program started out with 15 to 20 parents wanting to participate at King Avenue and Bridge Street schools, Linda explained.
"At first, the boys were a little unsure about whether or not they wanted to learn how to cook, but once they tasted some of the food, they really wanted to join in — even taking part in the Zumba exercise classes. It was really exciting to see so many children and their families together," Linda said.
Linda did hit one unexpected bump in the road. She discovered that a number of the parents were unable to read — either English or Spanish — which put the children in the uncomfortable position of having to translate for their parents. She responded by adding a lot of pictures and demonstrations in the kitchen to help the parents understand.
The other hitch was getting the kids to try bell peppers, but, she said, once they tried the Veggie Tortilla Roll-Up, they decided they liked peppers and the dish became one of their favorites.
The eight-week program began in late February with Banana Berry Smoothies and ended in mid-April with Tasty Tostadas. In between, the children and their families will have seen how to make a Fresh Veggie and Dip Tray, Veggie Tortilla Wrap-up, Take a Wok on the Wild Side, Berry Good Banana Split, Peachy Peanut Butter Pita Pockets and Amazing Fruit Salad.
On the day I visited Park Avenue School, the children were taking a Zumba class. Cafeteria worker Lesley Langlois showed me how she makes Amazing Fruit Salad for the children.
"I get with the kids once a week to teach them healthy choices and how to cook for themselves," Lesley said. She explained that she works with the kids for about 45 minutes each week, teaching them about portion sizes and healthy choices.
Lesley said making the Amazing Fruit Salad is simple and easy. For the bulk of the salad, all she did was slice strawberries and kiwi, tore lettuce leaves into small pieces and drained canned pineapple chunks. The dressing was strawberry yogurt mixed with lemon juice and juice from the pineapple.
That means that in less than 15 minutes, Lesley prepared a healthy, inexpensive snack the children could make on their own.
Linda said that cost of the meals is important because so many students come from families that are struggling. She said the most expensive meal they have in the program is the wok stir-fry, which costs less than a dollar per serving.
"The goal of this program is to say to the parents that they can go down to Save-Mart or Food 4 Less, and — for less than $10 — they can get food that their kids can make," Linda said.
Because Linda has been able to conserve the grant money this year, she said she has enough funds to run another session of Families Fit Together. She expects the school board to make the course a permanent part of the district's after-school programs.
AMAZING FRUIT SALAD
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Makes four servings, about 1-1⁄2 cups each
2 cups lettuce leaves (romaine, redleaf or butter lettuce), washed and torn
1 cup canned pineapple chunks packed in 100 percent juice, drained (reserve juice)
1 cup strawberries, sliced
3 kiwi, peeled and sliced
1⁄2 cup lowfat fruit-flavored yogurt (we used strawberry yogurt)
3 tablespoons pineapple juice (reserved from the can)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Place torn lettuce leaves into a large salad bowl. Add pineapple chunks, strawberry slices and kiwi slices.
In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, pineapple juice and lemon juice.
Drizzle yogurt mixture over salad and serve.
Source: "Children's Power Play! Kids Get Cookin' Cookbook," a program of the Health Education Council
VEGGIE TORTILLA ROLL-UP
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Makes four servings
4 7-inch whole wheat tortillas
1⁄2 cup nonfat cream cheese, divided use
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce or fresh spinach
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1⁄2 cup chopped bell pepper, any color
1⁄2 cup chopped cucumber
1⁄4 cup canned, diced green chilies
1⁄4 cup sliced ripe olives, drained
Spread each tortilla with about 2 tablespoons of cream cheese.
Top each tortilla with lettuce, tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, chilies and olives.
Roll each tortilla and serve.