Getting your kids to eat healthy can be a challenge but a dose of farm living might help.
Serving zucchini and tofu dumplings to kids could be a recipe for disaster but not at Healthbarn USA. That's one place where kids develop a taste for good nutrition and have a good time doing so.
Janan Fugel says, "A lot of things, people say they’re fun but they’re not really fun. But this, the Healthbarn. It was much funner than I would have thought it would be.”
Stacey Antine founded the one-of-a-kind program to teach kids and their families to be more health-conscious.
The Registered Dietitian says, "Basically what we do is, it’s all hands on education through recipes, gardening, showing them that being active doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play a sport.”
Kids get down and dirty right from the start. First comes the planting and harvesting. Later, they move on to preparing and selling their own fruits and vegetables.
“Like summer we’re actually harvesting and then planting for the fall," Antine says. "Fall we’re typically harvesting and we’re preparing for the winter to do our canning and our jellies and things like that. So they get to see the whole cycle of food.”
Children, ages six to 15, are divided into different programs.
Antine says, "The young harvester’s program usually runs about 30 kids. We have seedlings, which are three to five-year-olds. And then we have field trips.”
Learning to like fresh food can make a big difference. Just ask Michael Ferrucci who has lost 30 pounds since getting involved in the program a year ago.
“I used to eat a lot of bad foods and I came here," he says. "I learned that I could eat right and like what I eat. And it was just a great experience for me.”
Healthbarn USA is located in Wyckoff, New Jersey, outside New York City. Eventually Stacey Antine hopes to franchise the program to make it available to kids around the country. Approximately 750 children have participated so far.
Fast Facts:More than 15 percent of American children, 6 to 19, are obese.
Fewer than 20 percent of high school students eat the recommended five or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables.
A program called, Healthbarn® USA, introduces children to the farm, giving them hands-on experience in growing and harvesting fresh vegetables.
Children also learn about healthy behaviors as they taste the “fruits and veggies” of their labor and learn how to prepare healthy meals and snacks.
The number of overweight children in the U.S. is climbing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight among 6- to 11-year-olds has doubled over the past 20 years. Among those 12 to 19, rates have tripled. Today, nearly 19 percent of children 6 to 11 are overweight and more than 15 percent are obese. Among the 12- to 19-year-olds, more than 17 percent are overweight and 15 percent are obese.
Several factors have been cited as potential causes for the epidemic of weight problems among children. Many children have poor diets. Fewer than 20 percent of high school students eat the recommended 5-or-more servings/day of fruits and vegetables. For some children, fast foods, which are high in saturated fat and calories, make up a large percentage of their total diet. In addition, portion sizes have greatly increased. Snacking is also increasing. A CDC report found consumption of salty snacks (like chips, pretzels, popcorn and crackers) tripled over the past twenty years, while soft drink consumption doubled.
Along with diet concerns, children are spending less time in physical activities. Between 1981 and 1997, the amount of free time available to children decreased by about 12 percent. Children are more likely to take a bus or be driven to school and activities rather than walk or ride a bike. Even during free time, children may prefer to be sedentary – watching television, playing computer games or listening to music instead of playing outside or performing chores.
As weight increases, so does the risk for potential health problems. Doctors are seeing more “adult” health problems in children, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Children who are overweight are more likely to remain overweight as adults and may be at future risk for heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and several types of cancer.
Helping Children Get Healthy
Generally, a healthy diet is one that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat (or no-fat) dairy products and lean meats and fish. Regular physical activity helps burn excess calories and enable a child to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Health experts recommend children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day for most days of the week.
One program to help children learn about a healthy lifestyle is called HealthBarn® USA. It is located on ABMA’s Farm & Market in Wycoff, NJ. The program was developed in collaboration with Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extensions.
At the 30-acre working farm, visitors will find more than 75 seasonal varieties of vegetables, as well as some of the typical farm animals, like cows, goats, rabbits and horses. Children get the opportunity to plant, nurture and harvest farm-grown foods and use them to prepare healthy dishes. The goal is to teach about healthy nutrition, increase physical activity through farm work and, hopefully, adopt healthier behaviors.
There are several programs offered at HealthBarn USA. Young children (ages 3 to 5), can participate in “The Seedlings” program. For one hour a week, the children become acquainted with farm animals, visit the gardens and help prepare dishes made with fresh, seasonal produce. The Seedlings program lasts ten weeks and is offered during the Spring, Fall and Winter.
Two “Young Harvesters” programs are available, one for children 6 to 11 and the other for those 12 to 15. Depending upon the time of the year, children grow or harvest fruits and vegetables, cook with the produce and learn about nutrition and healthy food preparation. There are also arts and crafts and nature activities. Children also get the opportunity to sell their own produce at local farmers markets.
HealthBarn USA offers field trip experiences for school students and organizations (like local Scout groups). There are also workshops for adults and teens on topics like meal planning, supermarket shopping, weight and exercise.
For many children at HealthBarn USA, it’s the first time they’ve been on a farm, worked with animals or tried to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. The program takes children back to the roots of their food supply and help them understand the concept of fresh food. Planting and harvesting allows children to develop an “ownership” of the fresh produce, which means they may be more likely to try a vegetable they’ve never tasted. A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found after 12-weeks of a HealthBarn program, children ate more fruits, vegetables and dairy foods as snacks and drank less soda.
For information on Healthbarn USA, visit the Web site
For information on obesity:American Obesity Association Web site
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site
For information on healthy eating:USDA, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Web site
National Agricultural Library/USDA Web site