JUNIOR LEAGUE, UNITED HEALTHCARE BACK THE PROJECT
The kids lean backwards into a “crab” position, with their hands and feet on the floor. Then they attempt to kick the ball and score on the other team in a fitness game called “crab soccer,” one of the activities offered by Kids in the Kitchen.
The visual image of a bunch of kids and volunteers crab-walking around, collapsing, laughing, trying to kick (and often missing) the ball might sound pretty silly, but it’s a game with serious benefits.
“It engages the core, arms, legs, and cardio system,” said Meredith Mosley, president of the Junior League of Dallas. “If a child has a ball, they can play—and they can play it in their house. They don’t even have to have access to green space.”
This activity is just one of many components of Kids in the Kitchen, a health education program supported by the Junior League of Dallas and sponsored by United Healthcare. This program, which works in conjunction with agencies such as the Boys & Girls Club of Dallas and Kids-U, aims to teach kids the benefits of healthy eating and exercise through easy, engaging recipes and activities. The most recent curriculum, implemented in 2013, is called “Super Foods + Super Fitness = Super Kids,” and teaches kids that they’ll be stronger, faster, and smarter when they take care of their bodies through nutrition and exercise. Currently, the program impacts more than 600 Dallas children.
PARTLY A RESPONSE TO CHILDHOOD OBESITY
“So many studies have shown that healthier children do better in school,” Mosley said. “Ultimately, we want to empower the youth to make healthy lifestyle choices.”
The program is partly a response to childhood obesity rates—which have doubled in the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, more than a third of American kids are overweight.
Kids in the Kitchen aims to help counteract this—or at least familiarize children with healthy concepts. The eight-week program teaches kids about the USDA MyPlate and provides simple, healthy ways for them to ensure they’re getting the nutrition they need.
It’s taught through afterschool providers (who have been trained by Junior League volunteers) and focuses on necessary mealtime components such as “great grains,” “victorious vegetables,” and “fabulous fruits.” On cooking days, children learn about kitchen safety, etiquette, and how to make a simple, kid-friendly meal—maybe an English muffin mini pizza; maybe a peanut butter waffle. The lists of ingredients are short, and there’s no cutting required that can’t be done with a blunt table knife.
“It’s amazing how kids will eat different kinds of vegetables if they get to cut them up themselves and add them in ways they want to,” Mosley said. “This is about simple recipes that they can enjoy making and remember. It’s about simple decisions that help with lifelong nutrition needs.”
On activity days, the children are taught a fun game — crab soccer, for example — and given time to play. They’re also encouraged to talk about ways to be active in daily life and the importance of exercise. They’re given handouts and encouraged to share what they’ve been taught with their families.
KIDS IN THE KITCHEN EXPANSION IS HOPED FOR
Mosley said they hope to expand Kids in the Kitchen in the coming years, and hope to service even more children and families.
“We’ve seen great results, and a lot of growth from agencies wanting to participate,” Mosley said. “Not only are we making an impact, but hopefully, we’ll get to make more and more of an impact as we share the program more broadly across Dallas.”
The Junior League of Dallas was founded in 1922 in Dallas, and is a women’s organization focused on cultivating leaders to address the needs of the community. Currently, the program has 5,000 volunteer members and provides more than 130,000 hours of community service each year. Kids in the Kitchen is free to its participants.
“We hope that children learn what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, and that it’s not that difficult,” Mosley said. “Our hope is to make a lasting impact on the lives of all the children in Dallas.”
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