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Benefits of Hands-On Cooking Interventions in Preventing Nutrition Insecurity in Children

By Jasmeen Bains, Navya Muppidi, and Sriya Popuri

Scroll down below to view the work accomplished by a team apart of Dr. Kramer's COLL220 class, Service Learning Practicum, this past semester.

Hyperpalatable food, at first glance, seems to suggest that the food is extra delicious. This is true to an extent, but hyperpalatable food more specifically refers to food that is high in fat, carbohydrates, and sodium in order to create an addictive quality in the foods. For example, potato chips can be considered a hyperpalatable food. One study from the Public Library of Science estimated that about half of elementary school lunches contain hyperpalatable foods, which can increase the risk of obesity and other dietary-related conditions.

Some techniques to encourage children to cook and eat more healthy food includes a program called Cookkits, which taught children how to make various healthy meals and were given the tools to make those meals at home. This intervention was shown to increase the children’s interest in helping prepare meals, as well as continuing to make the recipes they learned. Our attempt at implementing a similar program for children was at Mirasol Village, a mixed-income neighborhood which has a well-stocked community garden. We found this a great advantage, as this garden was the key to getting the children excited about what they were eating and understanding where it came from. Many children already showed an interest and curiosity in the produce, so we decided to teach the children different recipes using ingredients from the garden.

Our first event was rather simple: making a low-fat ice-cream in a bag with a cantaloupe topping with the hope that the children would take a more active role in preparing the recipe. We were relieved to see how eager they were to get their turn in measuring the ingredients to put into the ice-cream bag and learning about the different flavors, like vanilla, that were going into it. When the ice-cream was fully made, there was clear excitement and pride in the children. They showed their parents right away and even asked to make ice-cream again. We also felt excitement and pride seeing how well our first workshop was received by both the kids and their parents. However, as most attendees ate only the ice cream, we knew that in order to properly fulfill the purpose of our project, we would need a new recipe that fully utilized an ingredient from the garden.

In the photos above, we are helping the children place the ice cream into bags filled with 

salt and ice to shake and make ice cream!

We were nervous going into our second workshop of zucchini bread, as there is a general trend of children not liking green vegetables like zucchini. However, when we asked the children what they thought of this vegetable, we were pleasantly surprised that nearly all of them said they liked zucchini. The kids were also excited to smell the different spices and flavorings that went into the zucchini bread. We all encouraged the children that healthy foods like zucchini, walnuts, and spices are delicious and can be incorporated into their own meals. Through using nutritional placard cards, we explained to the children briefly the health benefits of the garden ingredients going into the food, like how zucchini helps one stay hydrated.

Through this process, we have learned how a little goes a long way in terms of giving children the motivation they need to get into healthy eating. We saw that the children were receptive to the healthy eating we were teaching, as long as we showed confidence and enthusiasm. By putting the produce into dishes kids normally love we found that it was both possible to make delicious food that the kids were excited to make and healthy food that decreases their likelihood of succumbing to nutrition insecurity and health problems associated with it.

In order to make sure that this project does not stop when we leave our service learning course, our goal is to compile a list of easy-to-make healthy recipes utilizing the different produce in the garden that the children could make without or with limited adult supervision. Although we brought recipe cards to the events for the kids to reference, they got dirty quickly and had to be disposed of. Since childhood is a critical period in learning and deeply ingraining information, we are hopeful that our project inspires them to adopt a lifelong habit of healthy eating.

The photo to the left shows us demonstrating how to make ice cream to the kids. The photo 

to the right shows us dicing chili peppers from the garden for the children to sample and learn the health benefits of them.


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