Teaching Children Healthier Options with Cooking Matters

To combat the rising rates of childhood obesity in the U.S., local elementary students take part in CommUniverCity’s Cooking Matters program. Cooking Matters is dedicated to teaching the importance of nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle to San Jose’s K-6th youth. Through a span of 6 weeks, nutrition lessons vary across a wide array of topics. Notable lessons include “MyPlate”, “Reading a Nutrient Label”, “Eating In vs. Eating Out” and many more. Additionally, each workshop ends with a brief, interactive cooking tutorial of a nutritious snack or meal. This portion of the workshops is designed to give the children a taste of the foods they are learning about. Cooking Matters’ main focus is to introduce its participants to healthy habits at the age at which they are the most impressionable. Doing so plants the seeds of awareness in their minds so, as they grow, they can recognize healthy food options around them; be it the grocery store, a restaurant or in their own homes.

Cooking Matters brings together SJSU student interns and local elementary school students. The SJSU student interns are the brains behind the whole program, as they are the ones who come up with the informative and fun lessons. SJSU intern Adrian Gaspar described the experience as, “Out of his comfort zone, but in a good way,” as he had never taught before joining the Cooking Matters team. The interns pair their lessons with a corresponding snack or meal. In the last couple of semesters, our participants have enjoyed foods like fruit smoothies, whole grain pancakes, and chicken and vegetable rice bowls.

Since many of our young participants come from low income backgrounds, one of the main goals of the Cooking Matters program is to have them enjoy and experience new, healthier foods they may not have regular access to. Over the past year, we have had at least one student try a new fruit or vegetable each semester. In our “Sources of Protein/Chicken Taco” lesson in Fall 2019, a 5th grade student from Lowell Elementary shared that she had never had a taco, or any other Hispanic food, before. At the end of that lesson, she told interns that she wanted to tell her parents that they need to try more Mexican dishes.

In Spring 2019, during our “Eat your Veggies!” lesson, a McKinley Elementary kindergarten student expressed that he had never eaten a bell pepper since he didn’t like them (despite having never tried one). After seeing his fellow participants eat the bell peppers, he decided to try one, and absolutely loved it. “I can tell my older sister that I can eat bell peppers now,” he told Cooking Matters interns. Said Letty Garica, a staff member with the CORAL after school program, “Even though they [the kindergartners] can’t fully absorb all the information, they at least get to see the foods and learn to recognize them.”

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