Local Program Teaches Kids Cooking And Nutrition Skills

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Second grader Claire Ingram and her classmates at Morrison Elementary in Athens are enjoying their first taste of sweet potato curry.

"I can't wait to share it with my parents," said Ingram's classmate Abygale Pravin.

That's exactly what Michelle Corrigan hopes to happen. Corrigan coordinates Live Healthy Appalachia's Food is Elementary program, a national program developed by the Food Studies Institute that teaches children basic nutrition and cooking skills.

All of the second graders at Morrison Elementary will meet once a week during the school year to learn and try tasty, healthy and affordable recipes.

"I think second grade is a great place to implement this curriculum because it is really helpful to show kids at a really young age that they like these foods, so they can go throughout high school and the rest of their lives knowing that these food are accessible, delicious and healthy for them," said Corrigan.

The program focuses on teaching kids about the foods they don't get enough of: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Kids learn about the history and culture of foods they try in the class, why they are healthy, and where they come from. They also learn to measure and prepare food, and even learn how to safely use knives.

"Parents may not be preparing these foods because they don't think their kids like them," said Corrigan. "What I think happens and what we hope for is that these kids take these recipes home and the knowledge they got from preparing a lesson that day and start asking their parents to prepare these foods," said Corrigan.

According to recent health statistics from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute,  32 percent of adults in Athens County are obese. The county ranks 61 out of 88 counties in Ohio as one of the least healthy counties.

Corrigan said the program will soon get a new name and a curriculum makeover to better meet the needs of Southeast Ohio families.

"The curriculum is a little outdated. So, we took it and not only made it to fit the technological capabilities that the schools have now but also incorporated more foods that are grown in our region," said Corrigan.

The program, which will be called "Live Healthy Kids" in the upcoming year, is currently taught at schools in Athens and Washington counties. It will also be taught in Meigs County schools next year.