Every Wednesday afternoon elementary-age children at the Boys & Girls Club at the Jelleff Community Center clamor to be part of the Healthy Snacks Program so that they can prepare, serve and eat healthy food with their friends. The students — most of whom attend Hyde-Addison Elementary School —become advocates for health; suddenly, whole grain is cool.
Healthy Living Inc., a non-profit educational organization run by Glover Park resident Juliette Tahar, has been providing the wholesome snacks to Jelleff since 2009. This year — thanks to a $500 United Health Heroes grant from Youth Service America (YSA) — they are taking things a step further.
Jennifer Ware, program coordinator for the Healthy Snacks cooking class at the Jelleff Community Center Boys and Girls Club, says the 7 through 11 year-olds in the after school program love the class.
"We have had kids cry when they can't get into the class” she said. “They love the preparation, the cleaning, everything. And they love to serve the other kids.”
Every Wednesday afternoon from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., half a dozen kids prepare a healthy snack for all the other kids at the club that day. In addition to cooking skills, the children learn about what constitutes healthy eating.
Charlie Montgomery, 7, has certainly learned from the program. “Some foods are not good. Some foods are good, but too much, like cheese, is not good.”
One February afternoon, six girls and two boys gather around a butcher block chopping table to make whole grain pita pizzas. Two children are grating mozzarella cheese with hand graters. Christopher, 7, is slicing large black olives in half. Two more girls are slicing green bell peppers and mushrooms. Another week, they put together a simpler snack with small bunches of red grapes, cubes of unprocessed cheddar cheese and whole wheat crackers.
Adarcylen Williams, 9, explains that through the Healthy Snacks program she has learned “which foods are good for you and how to look at the back of foods and read them, because I didn’t do that before.”
Ware spends time at the end of each cooking class with a smaller group of kids who are participating in the Youth Service Group. They learn that whole grains are better for digestion and richer in fiber than processed grains. And they are more satisfying so kids who eat them will feel full longer than if they ate enriched grains, such as white flour. They learn about refined and unrefined sugars and which foods have each kind of sugar.
They then put their knowledge to work. They evaluate the nutritional value of the snack foods in their after-school community; if they are not deemed healthy, they have to try to find a solution.
Next they will put what they have learned to use by serving their community. In April, the kids in the Jelleff program will take field trips to two Northeast DC Boys and Girls Clubs to talk to their peers about why they should choose healthy snacks over junk food.
Micah Carter, 10, has clearly been paying attention.
“I learned about childhood obesity and how big of a problem it is in the country.”
Asked what she would tell kids her age about eating healthy?
“If you don’t eat healthy, there are consequences. I am not saying you can’t eat any junk food, but it shouldn’t be a lot.”
The Youth Service group will cap off their service project on Wednesday, April 25th with a celebration and presentation at the Jelleff Community Center for their parents and Jelleff peers. This event will be open to the media.