VIDEO: Kids and volunteers get veggie smart

Kids help prepare healthy foods at a recent nutrition class at Oak Terrace School in Highwood. Northern Illinois Food Bank/Courtesy

By Sara Shouhayib

Food banks are taking creative approaches to feeding their hungry neighbors in Northern Illinois, teaching nutrition in cooking classes for volunteers and kids at school.

Professional chef Jennifer Lamplough holds monthly food demonstrations at the Northern Illinois Food Bank facility in Geneva for staff and volunteers. (Sara Shouhayib/Medill)

Kids turn into chefs at their own schools when Northern Illinois Food Bank volunteers come to teach them to cook tuna salad, hummus and dishes with lots of veggies.

The kid’s nutrition education after school program extends across the food bank service area that covers 13 counties in Northern Illinois.

The training is part of an after-school meal program.

“It’s a snack or a boxed cold supper in their after-school program and word was coming back that the kids weren’t eating some of the healthier items – cut veggies, tuna salad, hummus, egg salad – things that they didn’t really know about.  So they weren’t even trying it because they didn’t know what it was,” said Jennifer Lamplough,  director of nutrition programs and the executive chef at the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Lamblough created the after-school program, funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, with the help of graduate assistants in the dietetics program at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.  The  program is available at schools that serve 50 percent or more of their students free or reduced price lunches and also offer an after-school enrichment activity.

The four-week curriculum for the nutrition program concentrates on a “star veggie” for each week. Kids learn how to use it to make their own snacks. They have taught them how to make veggie cups and dip, salads, veggie boats, and veggie wraps.

“Research has shown that kids are 100 percent more likely to try a new food if they make it themselves. So that’s what we really sought to do by having them work in groups, make their own healthy snack. It’s been very popular, the kids are coming up for seconds and thirds for veggies, “ Lamplough said.

Although the program is helping change the eating habits of kids they are still faced with challenges, said Elizabeth Koselka, child nutrition programs specialist at the food bank, .

“We are a pretty small staff with a large area to serve, and sometimes we aren’t able to get nutrition education lessons out to an interested partner site just because we can’t get a staff member or volunteer over there at the right time.  This is something that has been slowly getting easier as word spreads and new volunteers pick up the call,” Koselka said.

The after-school nutrition program is expanding to educate kids on all five food groups and plans to offer 20 weeks of curriculum by the end of 2016.

The food bank is also working to put the veggie curriculum online within the next few months for parents to try at home. In the meantime, the food bank is offering to send the vegetable curriculum to schools. Schools can arrange for the program to come to their location when the academic year begins again in the fall.

Photo at top: Kids help prepare healthy foods at a recent nutrition lesson at Oak Terrace School in Highwood. (Northern Illinois Food Bank/Courtesy)