Preventing Childhood Obesity
By: Denise K. Livotti – PetitsChefsAcademy.com
Eating 5 or more vegetable and fruit servings each day significantly reduces a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer. Though a number of credible health agencies have recommended that individuals should consume 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruit daily many do not. According to the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, 62% of girls and 68% of boys aged 9-13 years did not meet the 5-serving minimum, and this figure rose to 70% for the 4 to 8 years age group.
Since eating habits established early in life tend to be sustained into adulthood, nutrition education programs that target children have the capacity to positively influence the dietary practices and health of future adults. Adopting a diet rich in vegetable and fruit from an early age may be one strategy for tackling the recent dramatic increase in childhood obesity and preventing the development of some chronic disease later in life. I’m no expert but this is all documented in research and surveys and the figures are very concerning. In a survey of Canadian children and youth, those who consumed vegetables and fruit fewer than five times a day were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese that those who met the consumption recommendation. Comprehensive school-based nutrition education is widely regarded as an efficient and effective way to reach students where they congregate and to improve their eating behaviours, including increasing their vegetable and fruit consumption.
Petits Chefs Academy was launched for this very purpose to allow children to discover the value and joy of healthy and nutritional cooking, make wise food choices, help model positive eating habits, teach children the life skill of cooking and provide opportunity to influence their skills in the kitchen so that they can prepare themselves healthy nutritious snack and meals. We want to be able to help develop the skills and confidence necessary for children as young as 3 up to 17 years on healthy eating principles, cooking skills, safe food handling and much more which will last them a lifetime.
So far and throughout our Camp Petits Chefs We Are! 2011 students reported desirable changes in their knowledge, attitudes and practices. They identified enjoying the social, sensory and skill building aspects of the program and learning how to prepare healthy and tasty recipes that emphasized on many different cultural foods with different fruits and vegetables. According to some students, they prepared recipes at home, such as a frittata for their mom to take with her to work, suggesting that skills learned in the class room were being incorporated into the ever day lives of participants. Another mother explained that she was shocked to see her child eating left over vegetable lasagna noting that her child didn’t eat vegetables at home. Another child came to us with fine motor skill issues and as she chopped and cut by the end of the week her fine motor skills had improved significantly. Also, an attitudinal shift with the discovery that “healthy food can taste good” was noted amongst most of the students.
The overall success of the Camp was tremendous with the students particularly enjoyed learning how to prepare food hands-on and independently, cooking with newly acquired friends, and getting to eat what they made.
However, to make our Academy even more effective we must involve the parents and schools in healthy eating initiatives and providing nutrition education for parents and teachers so they can role model healthy eating behaviors at home and school, respectively. Petits Chefs Academy should be attractive to schools so as to assist them in meeting the learning expectations of the Ontario curriculum particularly in context where home economics is no longer mandatory. The potential of informal school-based cooking programs like Petits Chefs Academy in contributing to a healthy school nutrition environment is a viable partnership between the Academy, parents and schools.