How do you get children to try nutritious food? One way is by having them prepare healthy snacks and meals.
This is the concept behind Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Nutrition Education Program, which is made up of a series of lesson plans geared toward encouraging children ages 5-12 to try and learn about healthy food while taking part in the food-preparation process.
“Little kids like good, healthy food,” said Jennifer Lamplough, Northern Illinois Food Bank’s director of nutrition programs and executive chef. “I think people underestimate them and think they’re only going to eat mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. If we get them involved in making food, they are going to be much more likely to try it.”
One in five children in northern Illinois faces hunger. During the school year, Northern Illinois Food Bank works with more than 150 after-school programs to provide nutritious snacks or suppers to children in need. These programs serve approximately 7,000 children each weekday.
Meals provided at after-school programs may be the only meal a child has at night, and these meals are increasingly including healthy options to keep up with USDA nutrition guidelines. Data collected by the Food Bank identified healthier items like hummus, egg salad, tuna salad and vegetables as types of food children typically avoid at after-school programs. With this in mind, the Food Bank’s Child Nutrition team, along with students from Northern Illinois University’s nutrition and dietetics program, developed the Nutrition Education Program as a way to get kids to try these healthy foods.
In 2015, the Food Bank introduced its first Nutrition Education Program curriculum series focusing on vegetables. The series is made up of four simple lesson plans designed for kids in elementary school and middle school. Lesson plans differ each week to highlight a star vegetable and include cooking demonstrations.
All of the lessons area free for anyone to use and available at on the Food Bank’s website. Each lesson includes a downloadable guide, recipe and activity for children to take home. The website also features 15-minute instructional videos for each lesson.
Northern Illinois Food Bank recently piloted a curriculum series focusing on grains, and material for that will be available soon. The Food Bank plans to continue developing curriculum for each food group in the USDA My Plate model, including a series focusing on dairy that is being piloted this spring. The Food Bank’s Nutrition Education Program is made possible by generous support from BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois.