“It’s usually not this chaotic,” Jim Beckta says apologetically.
IRCOM‘s (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba) Children’s Programming is a little hectic today, but it’s a well-controlled chaos. About 20 kids between the ages of six and 12 are gathered for the day’s activities – healthy snacks. And they’re excited.
“Helping everyone is my favourite part,” says nine-year-old David Marele. Although pizza is Marele’s favourite food, after a pause he adds he also likes apples, oranges and bananas.
Beckta, IRCOM’s healthy snacks coordinator, calms the kids and gets them set for today’s recipes: dehydrated apple slices and protein bars. Healthy snacks are served daily to the approximately 75 newcomer children and youth attending IRCOM’s afterschool and summer programming, and often the kids get to help with the preparation of the food. A Nourishing Potential grant from The Winnipeg Foundation helps IRCOM purchase healthy food, equipment and staff training.
Beckta vacuum-seals apple peelers to the table in front of the kids and demonstrates how to turn the machine’s crank to peel, core and slice the apples at once. Volunteer Lydia Negah then slices the apples in half, and the kids lay the halves on the dehydrator – at least the ones that aren’t eaten first.
At another table, program support worker Fatuma Sufi helps a group of kids measure some of the ingredients in the protein bars, including oats, whey protein, sunflower seeds and raisins. These bars are eight-year-old Ruth Wipawa’s favourite – partly because of the applesauce and chocolate also included.
While apple slices and protein bars are two of the kids’ favourite recipes, it’s been a challenge to get them to choose healthy snacks.
It’s often easier to access convenience store foods than to find healthy options, explains program director Shereen Denetto. Peer pressure also plays a role. At school, many Canadian kids make fun of traditional foods eaten by newcomers, even though the traditional options are often much healthier than the processed foods many Canadian kids eat. All the kids want to eat ‘Lunchables’ (a prepackaged food packet, usually containing crackers, processed meat and cheese, and a sweet candy treat), Denetto says.
“It’s part of wanting to fit in and be Canadian,” she says.
Beckta found taking lessons slowly and not being preachy has helped encourage kids to try and enjoy the healthier options. And learning about healthy food – especially in a new country – is extremely important.
“[Nutrition isn’t] something necessarily pushed in schools and it’s not always something they learn about at home,” says educational assistant Gabby Huggins. “So they’ve got to get the information from somewhere.”