“If it’s on the shelf [in a supermarket] it’s food, so why isn’t it healthy?”
That’s the tough question Kids in the Kitchen participant Robert wants explained, and youth and family social worker Leanne is doing her best.
Kids in the Kitchen is one of many programs offered by NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre in Winnipeg’s Gilbert Park neighbourhood.
Leanne has drawn a line down the middle of a large orange poster board, and the kids draw healthy foods on one side and unhealthy options on the other. The healthy side includes items like corn, broccoli, bananas and bread. The unhealthy side has chips and cake, hot dogs and energy drinks.
“We noticed that some unhealthy food tastes really good, so that doesn’t mean you should never have it, but how do you think you can make it a little healthier and include some of these [healthier options] in your diet?” Leanne asks the kids.
There’s some discussion about where to put chicken, specifically KFC, and it’s decided that although fried chicken isn’t the healthiest option, a plain chicken drumstick would fall in the healthy category.
The Kids in the Kitchen program has recently moved to NorWest Co-op’s Community Food Centre, a new kitchen and dining facility that opened earlier this year. The goal of the Centre is to improve health outcomes in a neighbourhood where diabetes and obesity are a problem. The Centre also provides great opportunities for community outreach and engagement.
Nourishing Potential grants from The Winnipeg Foundation have helped purchase healthy food and cooking equipment for Kids in the Kitchen, which can now accommodate more participants in the larger space.
The grants program has also supported food at a variety of other youth programs run by NorWest in three area resource centres, as well as the Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Program, which includes a cooking group geared to newcomer youth.
“We try to have food at every program, so we’re trying to be healthier in what we offer,” Leanne says. “With Nourishing Potential specifically, we try to introduce participants to new foods they’ve never had before.”
Staff have noticed that the focus on healthy eating has helped change the mindset of participants.
“When I first started there was no one talking about healthy food, and now we are a little bit,” explains Adam, who started with the program in 2008. “[Now,] sometimes kids will say, ‘This isn’t even healthy,’ whereas before it wasn’t even a word in our vocabulary.”
Although Adam says gauging impact can be difficult, in some ways it’s clear the program is working.
“We had kids that started when they were 10 and they are 16 now, and they’re leading cooking programs, which is huge for us.”
This summer, you can join Jonathan Toews – Nourishing Potential ambassador and donor – and help nourish the potential of Winnipeg kids. You can make a gift online, in person at the Foundation office or any branch of Assiniboine Credit Union or by texting GOAL to 45678.
An earlier version of this article appeared in July, 2014. Updates by Kerry Ryan.