On Saturday, April 30 from 12 – 3 pm, the South Mountain YMCA will host its 20th annual Healthy Kids Day. Children and families can enjoy games and sports, a bounce house, a family obstacle course, healthy snacks and more. Spiderman will make several appearances throughout the day.
As part of the event, Lisa Suriano, founder of the Veggiecation Program will present a kid-friendly, interactive cooking demonstration. Kids will help prepare Teriyaki Snap Peas and Carrots, sample their creation, and vote on how they liked the recipe.
Recently, Barista Kids asked Suriano some questions about Veggiecation, a curriculum-based nutrition education program. The program, which is in classrooms in New Jersey, New York and several other states, teaches kids healthy eating habits and gets them to love their vegetables.
What inspired you to start Veggiecation?
Growing up and now working in the school food industry I have a great understanding and appreciation for the challenges that food service directors face on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to enticing children to eat healthy foods. My passion for and education in nutrition science gave me the knowledge of how to create a program that was practical and effective.
Why IS it so hard – for adults and for kids – to eat our veggies?
Vegetables are not omnipresent in our society the way processed foods are. They are not marketed to us in colorful packages with catchy jingles. Therefore, they are not the norm for us. Incorporating veggies into our diets requires some intention and effort. In a world of instant gratification, where convenience is king, vegetable consumption can fall by the wayside.
How can parents encourage their children to eat more vegetables?
Cooking with your kids is incredibly powerful. Engaging them in food preparation will inspire children to try new foods. Also, creating an environment at home where vegetables are readily available, a staple at meal and snack time, will help kids develop a familiarity and preference for veggies.
How do you work with school lunch directors to help them to incorporate more vegetables into school lunches? Do you sometimes get resistance from them, or from the kids?
We provide food school directors and teachers with the materials to create buzz around vegetables in their cafeterias and classrooms. Our recipes are simple…and our posters and voting materials are ready-made ways to generate excitement in the lunchroom about these new dishes. The new USDA regulations for school food require serving more green and orange vegetables to students. Our program makes it easier to meet these requirements. I have encountered skeptics who do not value nutrition education or believe that children will not be willing to eat vegetables. However, we often are able to change these people’s minds when they witness how enthusiastically students respond. We certainly have students who are averse to trying unfamiliar foods, especially vegetables. But the power of positive peer pressure works strongly in our favor.
Is it really true that eating more vegetables raises children’s test scores and reduces discipline problems in school?
Absolutely true! Numerous evidence based studies have shown that increased vegetable consumption in schools results in elevated standardized test scores, increased language and cognitive skills, decreased nurse visits, lessened need for counseling sessions and lower number of disciplinary referrals (Editor’s note: see the Veggiecation website for details and statistics).
I am very inspired by all of the advocates working towards better school food. Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver have done incredible work in raising national awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic. But it is also the parents, the bloggers, the child nutrition coordinators and the champion teachers who are making strides to bring about change within very real and difficult constraints. I consider all of those people my comrades.
What are your favorite and least favorite veggies?
I can’t get enough kale or broccoli. I just love them both. Mushrooms are the only veggie that I struggle with but I am overcoming that slowly.
Can you share a favorite recipe?
Shamrock Smoothie – an easy and delicious way to work veggies into breakfast. (Recipe at the end).
What do you hope to accomplish at the YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day?
The overall mission of Veggiecation is to excite children and adults about vegetables. In every community event we participate, we always manage to convert some veggie skeptics, turn parents on to a new way to serve veggies at home and deepen everyone’s appreciation for the power of vegetables. I am confident we will be able to do just that at the Healthy Kids Day.
Yield: 1 serving
- ½ cup kale, chopped
- 4 oz skim or low fat milk
- 4 oz plain or vanilla yogurt
- ½ banana, frozen
- 1 tbsp honey (optional)
Wash the kale leaves and dry. Remove stem and center rib and discard. Chop the kale and then measure.
Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend well until smooth.