Developing good nutrition and activity habits early in life helps set kids up for healthy futures. Several programs at our partner Community Food Centres work to foster curiosity in the kitchen among their youngest community members -- from The Table’s Tiny Tastes program to Dartmouth North CFC’s Young Cooks and Young Farmers programs. This year, The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, ON, added a new youth-focused program to their calendar: FoodFit for youth!
FoodFit is a 12-week program for low-income community members who experience barriers around healthy eating and physical activity but who are motivated to make lasting changes to their health. The program combines fun, hands-on cooking sessions and food-based activities with take-home recipes, easy-to-understand nutrition information, group exercise, shared meals, self-directed individual and group goal-setting, and reflection and feedback loops that monitor and reinforce individual and group progress.
“We saw the potential of FoodFit to teach cooking skills and encourage physical activity and thought, what if we offered this program to the youth in our community, to encourage these healthy behaviours early on?” explains coordinator Kate Van. The Local launched the first youth-focused version of the program this spring. Over the course of 12 weeks, participants between the ages of 13 and 19 were introduced to general principles of healthy eating. Each class explored a theme, from breakfast solutions to understanding nutrition labels.
An important addition to the youth version of this program is the emphasis on building the self-esteem of program participants. Says Van, “I think the greatest gift you can give teens is confidence -- confidence to make their own choices, confidence to be themselves and confidence to experiment and not be afraid to make mistakes now and then, even in the kitchen!"
Thirteen-year-old Tiana sees this focus as an important part of the program. “I feel more confident about my cooking, that I won’t burn things and that the things I make will taste good.”
The program’s breadth helped participants learn about many facets of health and nutrition. Jess, age 18, learned that “to feel good and feel healthy, you need physical activity. You need to be eating good food. And if you aren’t feeling good, doing more activity and changing what you eat can help change how you are feeling mentally and physically.”
To help participants find fun and enjoyment in getting active, FoodFit Youth used playful activities like hula hoop in their physical activity component. “We wanted the youth to realize that fitness and activity is for everyone, not just people who are good at sports,” explains Van. “No matter your level of fitness, there are ways to get your body moving that are fun and will improve your overall health.”
Tiana says she left the program understanding how much physical activity she should include in her week and its importance for her overall health. Combined with the food knowledge and cooking skills she learned during the program, she now feels more confident about making healthy choices. “I learned that simple changes can make a big difference. Choosing ingredients that are fresh and in season makes meals taste better. Walking and doing physical activities makes you feel better overall.”
For more information on the FoodFit program, and which organizations are currently offering it, go to the program page.