Community Memorial Health System Launches “Healthy Kids in the Kitchen” Program

The Healthy Kids in the Kitchen program is an interactive, educational workshop experience designed with the goal of enhancing the overall health of participants and their families.

In collaboration with the Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo and local chef Rachel Main Holst, Community Memorial Health System (CMHS) has developed and launched a nutrition education program that takes underserved youth into the kitchen for hands-on, healthy cooking classes.  Designed with the goal of improving diet choices and enhancing the overall health of children and their families, the program focuses on exposing participants to a variety of nutrient-dense ingredients such as kale, squash, and collard greens, while also teaching them how to use more familiar ingredients such as ground beef, rice, and cheese, in healthier ways.

Chef Abdu Romero taught participants how to separate kale leaves from the stalk.

“It’s important to provide safe and positive opportunities for children to make choices about what they do and do not want to put in their bodies,” said Chef Rachel Main Holst.  “Forming and following healthy habits during the formative years makes it more likely that a child will carry those habits into the rest of his or her life.”

“Beyond health and wellness, there are numerous long-term benefits to learning how to cook,” continued Holst.  “It is an excellent opportunity for children to develop and strengthen their confidence and self-assurance, and to learn that they have the power to create something the way they want it to be.”

During the afternoon event, groups of 10 youth took part in highly interactive, small-group kitchen workshops supervised by two chefs, a CMHS Registered Nurse, and a member of the CMHS outreach team.  The workshops began with an in-depth hand washing lesson emphasizing the importance of good hand hygiene for safe food handling and overall wellness.

(L-R) CMHS Business Development Manager Megan O’Neill, CMHS Outreach Manager Evelyn Scott, RN, Chef Rachel Main-Holst, and Chef Abdu Romero led the Healthy Kids Workshops.

Next, participants learned about the importance of hydration and how much water to drink on a daily basis, as well as how to “design” their plates using optimal quantities of fruit, grains, protein, and vegetables!  Finally, the little chefs headed into the kitchen for closely-supervised chopping, measuring, stirring, and finally – eating!  The menu for the day? Chef Rachel’s Squash Chili and Healthy Bones Kale Salad.

“It’s amazing to watch the kids become more open to trying new things just over the course of one workshop,” said Evelyn Scott, RN, Outreach Manager for Community Memorial Health System.  “Being engaged with the cooking process gets them excited about eating what they’ve prepared – even if it includes ingredients they’ve never heard of or wouldn’t normally like.”

CMHS Outreach Manager Evelyn Scott, RN, helped participants safely cook Squash Chili.

Every participant took home a CMHS Healthy Kids cookbook, complete with five nutritious recipes and highly-visual summaries of all the educational components of the workshop.  “Our hope is that the information we provide and the enthusiasm of the kids will inspire other members of their families to try new foods and make healthier decisions,” said Scott.

A second Healthy Kids in the Kitchen event is planned for May, and CMHS is currently working to expand the outreach into other locations and programs across Ventura County.