Here’s something new: Exposing Children to Healthy Eating

Students scattered around the cafeteria, grabbing the bowls of spinach, grapes, and bananas. One jumped up to cut up the strawberries, while others ran to get the blender.

The room is filled with laughter, with students sprinkling coconut flakes and kiwi strips on top of their tropical green smoothies.

When you think of healthy lifestyles, the conversation usually starts with how adults can change certain habits including diet, exercising, and just a positive outlook on life.

“I now look at labels on my food. I always make sure to remind my mom to look at them too,” said Hosanna Gaines, a sixth grader at The City School.

The nonprofit group, Vetri Community Partnership, is coming up with a new and unique approach to eating and living right. They are trying to reach children at an early age.

”Vetri Community Partnership is very handson, practical, and accessible knowledge,” said Maddy Booth, Vetri’s education director. “Demonstration of food preparation is great, but to engage participants in actual, practical skill building, knowledge-raising around food and its preparation is vital.”

According to its website, Vetri Community Partnership aims “to help kids experience the connection between healthy eating and healthy living and empower children and families to lead healthier lives through fresh food, hands-on experiences and education.”

The success of this program depends on schools, parents, and children buying into this innovative approach to a better life.

Vetri Community Partnership consists of several programs including Eatiquette 360, Vetri Cooking Lab, My Daughter’s Kitchen, and Mobile Teaching Lab. When it was founded by chef Marc Vetri and restauranter Jeff Benjamin, their vision for the nonprofit was to expose children to healthy eating and healthy living.  The Inquirer is a supporter of My Daughter’s Kitchen, run by former Inquirer food editor Maureen Fitzgerald.

Since 2008, Vetri Community Partnership staff and volunteers continue to provide empowerment to young children, working towards a healthier lifestyle and contributing to the solution of obesity-related issues.

Eatiquette 360 and Vetri Cooking Lab, two important parts of the program, are shifting away from the typical learning environment, transforming the classroom into a place filled with exploration and new experiences.

Vetri Cooking Lab is a 10 week after school cooking curriculum that works from third grade to adults. Eatiquette 360 is an in-school program that provides nutrition education and mostly works with 4th to 8th graders. They are also in the cafeteria, offering freshly cooked meals.

Students are able to bring recipes to life, said Mary Bullock, Eatiquette 360 program manager. Instead of being lectured  about healthy lifestyles, they are engaging in preparing meals.

“We come around to each room with a cart filled with vegetables, electric skillets measuring cups, and cutting boards for every student,” she said.

Students are given the opportunity to experiment with foods and introduce their taste buds to foods that they may have been afraid to try before. Therefore, Vetri Community Partnership is giving children a new outlook on the world of foods.

“My mom is not always home, so I do not really get to learn how to cook”, said Jarah Nelson, a sixth grader at The City School.  Vetri Community Partnership allows children such as Jarah to gain that exposure.

Another focus of Vetri Community Partnership is to show students and families that are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program how to both make improvements to their food choices and do so with a limited budget. 

The whole notion of healthy eating being a lifestyle for the rich and famous is debunked. Vetri Community Partnership shows that every social status deserves to eat right and should not be limited due to their financial circumstances.

Young students are being exposed to this at a young age, carrying this information on to their families at home and adulthoods  Many of the children are implementing these new skills and information in their daily lives.

Booth, Vetri’s education program director, expressed her concern about the health status of Philadelphia residents.

Philadelphia is one of the largest cities with a lot of challenges,” Booth said. “It has a lot of diseases that are diet-related, so as of right now, we are focusing our energy in Philadelphia.”

One in five students in the Philadelphia School District, aged 5 to 18, are considered obese, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Vetri Community Partnership overall has developed a  unique approach to these obesity-related issues, providing young children with the knowledge and necessary tools. Vetri shows that it is never too early to begin utilizing these healthy living tactics. 

The City School sixth graders participate in a Vetri Cooking Lab session. They worked together to create a tropical green smoothie.

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