“That food tastes nasty! I’m not touching it Ms. Becky.”“One more time and your whole class will lose recess!”
“I just can’t get the kids’ attention. They are so restless…”
Until recently it was not uncommon to hear these things said during school days here at UrbanPromise. Our cafeteria staff was trying its best to meet USDA standards with prepackaged foods; staff were frustrated with the high energy levels of our kids and their seeming inability to focus (through my lens a result of living in this toxically stressed city). And then there are the abysmal statistics around obesity in areas of concentrated poverty: 40% of children in Camden are overweight and obese, and their food behaviors include not enough veggies and way too much fast food and sugar.
What’s a prevention-minded nurse practitioner to do??? Attack from all angles, that’s what! And thankfully, with funding from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, we’ve been able to do just that this year.
In the kitchen/cafeteria, our awesome dietician, Judy Lazo, has created a monthly menu of scratch-cooked meals, along with a cookbook with recipes for 150 servings (!). She leads taste tests and entree naming contests to engage our students and increase buy-in. Earlier this month the recipe being tested was a sweet potato bake, since the kids didn’t like the sweet potato tots…the winning name was Sweet Potato Crunch, and the kids gave it many thumbs up! It will now be a regular on the menu. Judy is also teaching nutrition in our classrooms.
Meanwhile our Rowan intern, D’Andre Miller, is incorporating movement into the lunch periods – by using fun videos from websites such as Go Noodle and JAM. This is helping on a number of fronts – the students are a bit rowdy coming into the lunchroom after being in class all morning, so five minutes of movement helps them to release energy, which in turns helps with behavior. Clapping is now used to get students’ attention instead of a whistle, which helps with the calm, and if a student doesn’t participate in moving – instead of being reprimanded we use a trauma-informed approach to find out what’s wrong, and then lift up and encourage them. Recess follows lunch, and staff now understand it can’t be taken away – these kids need to move!
Continuing on the movement front – we are trying to increase movement throughout the day to boost metabolism, since sedentary lifestyles greatly increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. This is where experienced educator and volunteer Kate Hilgen comes in. Our school staff received training at the beginning of the year on the importance of integrating movement into teaching strategies, but that is easier said than done, especially for new teachers. Kate is quietly observing in classrooms, brainstorming with our teachers, and helping new teachers learn from experienced teachers. The result is our kids are moving more frequently. “Stand up if you think you have the right answer!” I overheard the other day, and it warmed my heart!
Cooking classes are continuing through My Daughter’s Kitchen/Vetri Foundation. The garden will get going soon and students will grow veggies and cook with them. At the food co-op we have taste tests and recipes. Lots of good tasting and moving things going on around here!