In the Illinois Community

Our Community Partner is Making Eating a Healthy Diet Fun For Kids!

A Guest Blog Presented by: The Northern Illinois Food Bank 

 Can you believe it? One in five children in Northern Illinois is hungry. Northern Illinois Food Bank believes that no one should go hungry and operates a Child Nutrition Program to distribute nearly 2.5 million meals directly to children each year. Since 2013, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois has supported the Food Bank’s development of a Nutrition Education Program to address the challenge of encouraging children to try the nutritious foods provided through the organization’s After School Meals Program.

Equipped with the understanding that not only is trying new foods hard for children but also the knowledge that eating nutritious food is vital to growing children, Northern Illinois Food Bank developed a hands-on Nutrition Education Program to educate and empower kids to try new foods – and learn they aren’t just good, but good for you!

The Nutrition Education Program engages children in preparing their own healthy foods, because nutrition research has shown that children are more likely to eat something they have prepared themselves. There are five food group modules in the program – Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Protein, and Dairy – each with four lessons. Each lesson features a “star” ingredient in a short lesson and recipe demonstration. After they watch the facilitator prepare the recipe, children work in groups to prepare the food themselves. Once they have tried the new recipe, children can bring home the lesson worksheet and recipe to share, reinforcing the importance of nutrition for the whole family.

“We often assume that kids don’t want to eat healthy foods, which is a really a misconception. Kids like good food and they like to know what they are eating. Giving them the opportunity to make the snacks themselves and learn about the ingredients increases the likelihood that they will try it exponentially! And they love to be in charge of what they are eating. When I have kids asking for second and third servings of salad with raw broccoli and cauliflower in it, I know we’ve done our job!”  Jennifer Buck-Lamplough, Director of Nutrition Programs and Executive Chef.

Through the lessons, children experience foods they may not typically eat at home and learn the importance of eating healthy. The program developers know that they may not convince every child to love broccoli but when a child finishes preparing a recipe during the lesson, they have been willing to give something new a try! Over the last three years, the Nutrition Education Program has introduced new, highly nutritious foods to nearly 4,000 children in Northern Illinois.

The Nutrition Education Program has benefitted from strong collaboration with Northern Illinois University’s School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences to create evidence based lessons and pilot each module with children at youth sites. The Food Bank and its youth site partners have participated in Playworks training to incorporate active play and good nutrition and to learn tools for engaging children during the lessons. 

The five modules are now complete with lessons, recipes and worksheets. Facilitator training videos for the Vegetable, Protein and Grain modules have been released. Dairy and Fruit videos are in production and expected by the end of the year. All the materials developed for this program are available at www.SolveHungerToday.org/nutrition for use by any youth site. The Food Bank is eager to replicate the program across its thirteen county service areas and to share it with the Feeding America network of food banks. Thank you, BlueCross Blue Shield of Illinois!

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