“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 to explain.
Kids in the Kitchen is one of the programs at Gilbert Park Going Places, a gang-reduction initiative at the Gilbert Park social housing complex. The program is run in partnership with NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre. Gilbert Park is located on Burrows Avenue close to Keewatin Street in the city’s Northwest, and it’s fairly isolated; having programming for area children is extremely important.
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.
Kids in the Kitchen, along with many of the Going Places programs, is run out a small unit in the housing complex, so participant numbers are capped at 10. But there are more than 100 participants registered in the larger Going Places program.
As they draw, kids munch on veggies. In the small kitchen down the hall, another group is making a chicken stir-fry with Adam, the program’s other social worker. A Nourishing Potential grant from The Winnipeg Foundation helps NorWest purchase healthy food for all programs, as well as buy kitchen equipment for Kids in the Kitchen.
“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.”
Before Kids in the Kitchen, no one seemed to think about what kids were eating.
“When I first started there was no one talking about healthy food, and now we are a little bit,” explains Adam, who has been with Going Places since its inception six years ago. “Sometimes kids [now] will say, ‘This isn’t even healthy,’ whereas before it wasn’t even a word in our vocabulary.”
As they work on their drawings, Leanne and the kids talk about making healthier food choices.
“We take their favourite foods, like spaghetti for example, and talk about how we can make it healthier. If someone had not very much money, what could we put on it instead of cheese or instead of meat?”
Although Adam says gauging impact can be difficult, there are 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.”
For more information about Gilbert Park Going Places and Kids in the Kitchen, go to www.norwestcoop.ca.
Nourishing Potential provides grants so kids can access healthy food, nutrition education and cooking skills through after-school, drop-in and summer programs. You can ensure funding for these types of programs is available forever by making a gift to the Nourishing Potential Fund. For more information go to www.wpgfdn.org or call The Winnipeg Foundation at 204-944-9474.
All photos by Stacy Cardigan Smith