LiveWell Colorado obesity prevention program reaches teens at school

EatWell@School teaches nutrition through cooking

DENVER -  

School cafeterias are typically quiet after the final bell rings, but the kitchens at four DPS high schools bustle with activity.

Students at the Bruce Randolph school, KIPP Denver Collegiate high school, Martin Luther King Jr. Early College and Manual high school are participating in EatWell@School. The nine-week extracurricular program created by LiveWell Colorado focused on teaching teens healthy eating habits.

"If you allow [teens] to work in the process of creating the food, they are more accepting of eating the food -- even if it's something they completely hate," said Angel Villalobos, a volunteer chef mentor and culinary nutrition student at Johnson & Wales University. “At first, they didn't want to taste a lot of the stuff that we had, so we did a bean tasting, a lentil tasting and a vegetable tasting. They were a little apprehensive about certain foods, but they've opened up to the possibilities.”

EatWell@School begins with the basics of food safety, sanitation and knife handling. Eight weeks later, the teams create a healthy school lunch menu that conforms to the budget and standards of public school lunches. The goal is exposing teens to nutritious foods through a culinary arts boot camp.

"You have broccoli and you are like, ‘What do I do with broccoli?’ Where these guys learned how to dice it, chop it, sauté it and eat it raw," said Jen Martin, after school program director at the Bruce Randolph School.

“The first time we cooked we made black bean brownies, and I hate black beans,” said Gabrielle Krusmark, a junior at KIPP Denver Collegiate. “And I actually ate it.”

Through the process of creating dishes such as steak salads and zucchini muffins, the teens gain confidence in their ability to utilize nutritious ingredients and prepare healthy meals for themselves and their families.

"Now I can go home and actually cook for my family, and not just put something in the microwave," said Daisy Sanchez, a student at MLK Jr. Early College.

EatWell@School concluded with a cook-off during which the four teams prepared and presented their healthy school lunch menus to a panel of judges.  The Bruce Randolph School won with their chicken Panini wrap, vinaigrette-based coleslaw and jalapeno infused peach crumble. That team will now participate in a national competition in May 2013. The meal they created will also be served at LiveWell Colorado’s third annual fundraising luncheon on Dec. 13.

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