A taste for healthy cuisine

Ontario-based Food Works program helps kids make nutritious choices

You don’t often find groups of seventh graders preparing roasted broccoli, serving it to their families and eating it with gusto.

But that’s the aim—and now the successful result—of the Food Works program in southwestern Ontario.

Organized by program partners One Tomato and Lambton-Kent Ag in the Classroom, Food Works is an eight-week program delivered to schools in the Sarnia region. Food Works teaches kids about nutrition, provides them with skills in the kitchen with hands-on cooking sessions, and includes a visit to a local farm—culminating in a collective celebration that sees students prepare a healthy dinner for their parents.

“We can preach and lecture to kids to eat healthy foods, but without the tools to do so, they can only eat what their parents cook for them,” says Megan O’Neil-Renaud, executive director of One Tomato, a Sarnia-based organization dedicated to supporting food security and sustainability.

Healthy eating has developed into a major public health concern, with Health Canada recently reporting that obesity rates among children and youth in Canada have nearly tripled in the last 30 years.

Food Works was developed out of a mandate to educate kids directly about nutrition, healthy eating and healthy cooking, since they are generally dependent on the choices of their parents or caregivers and often have little control over what they consume, says O’Neil-Renaud.

“While it’s nice to say that parents should be teaching their kids to cook, we know there are a lot of children who are not getting this education at home,” she notes.

Enbridge’s Green Power, Transmission and Emerging Technology division recently provided $8,000 in funding to the Food Works program, which introduces kids to foods they’ve never tasted—and is enjoying positive feedback.

“Parents tell us their kids are choosing healthier foods in the grocery store and market, and that they are eating a much larger variety of foods,” says O’Neil-Renaud.

Enbridge’s donation will be invested in purchasing high-quality aprons and cookbooks, and furnishing a new kitchen site that will host classes for students and community members.

“The Food Works program provides an educational opportunity for youth to learn about eating local as well as the importance of making smart, healthy choices,” says Ian MacRobbie, general manager of Enbridge Green Power, Transmission and Emerging Technology.

“Eating local is not only important for our economy in Sarnia-Lambton, but is also beneficial to the environment as the food does not have to travel great distances. By helping youth understand not only the importance of healthy choices, but also how to make healthy snacks themselves, it helps promote healthier lifestyles.”