Correspondent Kate here with a very rewarding experience!
I took the cupcake truck 2 train up to Harlem last week for a volunteer opportunity that included three things very near and dear to my heart: kids, family, and healthy food.
The NY Coalition for Healthy School Food organizes monthly Family Dinner Nights during the school year for students to enjoy a free meal with their families, along with cooking demos and nutrition lessons. Busy parents get a night off from providing dinner and learn how to integrate meaningful changes in their lives.
I discovered this organization when I attended their Politics of School Food Conference this past October and learned about some very frightening statistics:
- 50% of children between the ages of 2-15 have fatty streaks in their arteries, literally signifying the beginning stages of heart disease.
- 33% of children born in 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.
- School Food Service Directors are asked to create a healthy meal with just 90 cents food cost (not including labor) for five components: entree, milk, grain, and two servings from the fruit and vegetable group. (How can this be possible when some people pay almost 4 times this for their daily latte?!?!?)
Those bullets represent just a small fraction of the issues brought up during the seven-hour conference. By the end of the day, I had decided that I needed to get involved. Eight months later, here I am, signed up to volunteer at the Family Dinner. (Hey, better late than never!)
Because I was heading to volunteer straight from work, I missed the first part of the event: the fruit smoothie demo 😦 I did, however, arrive just in time to snap a paparazzi shot of the special guest chef Franćois Payard!
Kindergarten through 8th grade students gathered around as the world class pastry chef demo-ed the vegan pizza and chocolate mousse he was preparing for everyone.
The vegan pizza contained tomato sauce, tofu and lentils.
I didn’t have a chance to taste it, but I know the kids were definitely trying some new ingredients! There was also a table of more healthy snacks which included hummus, crackers, and veggies. (Unfortunately, I’m not a professional blogger, so I didn’t think to capture this on film.)
They put me on water patrol. My responsibilities were to continuously fill a three-gallon water jug with a Brita pitcher that filtered slower than molasses(!!) for 100 thirsty people. Spills happened if I abandoned my post even for a second, so I had to monitor water distribution thoroughly. Despite being slightly overwhelmed, I just kept reminding myself of how happy I was that these kids were drinking water instead of soda!
The stress faded away when one of the organizers insisted that I take a break for chocolate mousse:
I inhaled it on my 80th trip to the sink, but I will definitely be paying a visit to Payard so that I can savor their chocolate mousse properly next time!
After dessert, there were door prizes, including a gift certificate to Candle Cafe [Editor’s Note: Good thing the certificates were for the cafe and not Candle 79!]. This organic, vegan restaurant co-hosts these dinners, and their chef makes a healthy, vegetarian lunch for the school at least once a week! This news segment profiles their extraordinary efforts:
As if it couldn’t get any better, each family was provided with a pre-planted herb and instructions on how to care for and cook with it. There were a few left over, so I took home this lovely parsley plant … even though my kitchen is overflowing with herbs from the CSA I share with Sarah!
I am honored to have taken part in this event! In our culture that is full of unhealthy and processed food, programs that encourage healthy habits for kids make me feel hopeful.
What programs have you seen/heard about/participated in that encourage healthy habits for kids?