Self-Help Advice on Teaching Kids about Nutrition

Written by Jennifer Strailey

Ever wish your child would adopt a healthier diet? There's a volunteer program that can help.

Hot pita bread with chickpea spread or McDonald's? That's the choice volunteer Sara Baer-Sinnott gives elementary school kids at the end of her class on Middle Eastern flatbreads. "More than half the class says pita bread and chickpeas," she says.

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No, the kids haven't been brainwashed by a band of health-food-crazed hippies. They've gotten hooked on making nutritious snacks as part of a program that teaches kids aged 8 to 12 about regional food and culture.

The program is called High-Five, and it's the co-creation of Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of traditional foods, of which Baer-Sinnott is the executive vice president, and the Chefs Collaborative, a network of chefs who promote sustainable cuisine.

The High-Five program is a way for chefs, parents and anyone with an interest in good food to help kids learn about healthful cuisine from around the world. It is supported entirely by volunteers, who go into elementary schools and teach the eight lessons of the program. The lessons look at flatbreads as a universal food in countries including Vietnam, India and Mexico.

Instructors receive a "ready-made food culture history class from soup to nuts," says Baer-Sinnott. In addition to the curriculum and recipes, instructors receive props, such as photos and maps that help tell a story about the particular country, its climate and its food.

"It's been tremendously successful," says Greg Higgins, High-Five volunteer and chef-owner of Higgins Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Ore. "There's been a greater demand than we have people to teach the classes." Higgins, who heads up the High-Five program in his region, says his chapter reached 600 kids last year.

"The immediate reward is that the kids get psyched about the food," says Higgins. "In one class I brought in all kinds of chilies. Some were very hot like serrano and habanero. By the end of class, I was cutting tiny slivers of the chilies and the kids were gobbling them up-hot peppers that probably would have scared their parents away. They thought it was the greatest thing."

Each lesson teaches a simple recipe for a complete meal. The class highlighting Mexico, for example, teaches kids to prepare corn tortillas with black beans. The hourlong lesson involves an additional hour of prep time for the instructor.

Besides getting kids excited about nutritious foods, the program has another benefit, says Higgins. "I know the kids lean on the parents to make the recipes at home." The idea, he says, is "if we can't change the way the parents eat, maybe we can change the kids."

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