Getting kids to eat their fruits and vegetables often ends up being a second job for parents. With soda, candy and processed foods in cafeterias at their disposal, it's no wonder children tend to pick pizza over spaghetti squash.
In order to help change these habits, a program called Healthy Ever After was created for the Torrance Unified School District by Torrance Memorial as part of the hospital's Community Benefit Program. Funding is provided by the Lundquist Cardiovascular Institute at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. Pulse spoke with Helaine Lopes, the program coordinator, who is just one of the many parents looking to alter the mindsets of children and educate them on healthy eating habits.
Healthy Ever After began in the Torrance Unified School District in January of this year. So far, the program has drawn in 2,788 students in Torrance from four local elementary schools-Riviera, Hickory, Arnold and Edison- with hopefully more to come.
The Healthy Ever After program was inspired by the Kids N Fitness program offered by Torrance Memorial to children and their parents through the Torrance-South Bay YMCA. There was a need to provide this information to a much greater population, so Emily Parker, MS, RD, and Giselle Willeford, RD, designed a curriculum that could be used throughout the elementary schools.
A major element in the success of Healthy Ever After is parent involvement. According to Lopes, parents meet five times a year to learn a variety of nutritional lessons from a registered dietician. In these lessons, parents or "docents" are given vital information and scripts to take to their schools in order to educate the students on various nutrition topics. For example, in the first lesson, parents were taught to view nutritional recommendations as a portion on a plate rather than the old method of eating according to the food pyramid. A summary of each lesson is also provided on the school menus, so parents can see what their children are learning.
Healthy snacks are provided during the lesson. Lynette Rock, TUSD's director of food and nutrition services, is working closely with the dieticians to select healthy food choices and to provide these options to school cafeterias where kids can put what they were taught into practice. The ultimate goal of the program is to teach kids about making the right choices and enlighten them on healthy lifestyles.
Lopes says that one of the greatest benefits of this program is that the learning has proven to be reciprocal. "Kids will come home after school and tell their parents about new foods they tried or different cooking methods they were taught about. The feedback is positive, and the results are fantastic, as children and parents have the ability to learn from each other."
Lopes believes the key to a healthy lifestyle is teaching children at a young age about how to make the right decisions. She hopes that this program will aid in "changing habits and helping children find that there are options they can enjoy that are more healthy. Even if it is a difference in how their foods are prepared."
So what does the future look like for Healthy Ever After? Lopes hopes to eventually create self-contained gardens in various schools; kids can learn about growing fruits and vegetables, which can then be served in the school cafeterias. It is also her goal to get more schools involved, including middle schools; bring in an activity component; and aid in the development of this already successful program.