In urban communities, where there are fewer opportunities to
learn how to cook with fresh food and fast food is easily accessible, childhood
obesity is an increasingly alarming medical concern. University of Illinois
Extension and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) have
partnered to counter this problem by creating the program "Wise Up Kids Cooking
Camp," a free cooking class for children ages 6-14 in the greater East St.
Louis metropolitan area.
Wise Up seeks to change children's relationship to food and
exercise by teaching them practical cooking skills and healthy, alternative
eating habits. Linda Crawl Jackson, Extension Educator, explained "Communities
have cultures, so what we're trying to affect with this program is the eating
culture in our community here." Wise Up Cooking Classes also supplements their
cooking and nutritional education with physical education by incorporating fun
exercise activities into every lesson. "The younger the children learn about
proper nutrition and exercise, the more likely they are to incorporate these
practices into their long-term lifestyles," says Jackson.
This year's cooking classes combine the Eating Smart Being
Active and OrganWise Guys curriculums to teach children how to keep their
bodies healthy. While Eating Smart Being Active focuses on nutritional
knowledge, food safety, and physical activity, OrganWise educates children on how
the food they eat affects the functions of their internal organs. By combining
these two curriculums, Wise Up not only teaches children how to cook healthy
meals, but establishes a direct relationship between what children eat and how
it affects their bodies.
The recipes the kids learn provide hands-on experience preparing
food and enable them to try new, healthier foods that they can enjoy. Jackson
explained, "Often the children have never eaten these foods together before,
and they might say 'oh, that's nasty' at first, but then they're in line for
seconds." This new relationship with food will extend into their family's lives
as well. At the end of each day, the children take home the recipes they
prepared in class and can now show their families how to make these meals. According
to Jackson, "Many instances people don't know alternatives to how they eat, and
these cooking classes provide alternatives for the community."
Wise Up Kids Cooking Camp classes are held
Monday through Thursday for three hours every day. A new session begins each
week between the periods of June 9 and August 11, except for the week of July
4. For more information about Wise Up or other U of I Extension and EFNEP
programs, contact Linda Crawl Jackson at 618-397-4973 or firstname.lastname@example.org.