The Hamilton County Department of Education, in partnership with Coordinated School Health and Gaining Ground, is bringing healthy cooking demonstrations by local chefs and a sampling of freshly prepared food to local schools.
"We want parents on board with us to cook healthier at home," said Hamilton County Schools Director of School Nutrition Carolyn Childs, adding that some children don't know what fresh food looks like.
So a local partnership is bringing Chef Nights to various schools, most recently Orchard Knob Elementary, where 120 parents and students were surprised by free nutritious fare at a regular PTA meeting.
Students at Brown Academy, Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy, East Lake Academy, East Lake Elementary and Hardy Elementary received similar healthy initiative events. All total more than 1,000 people have sampled healthy foods thanks to the new program.
Each Chef Night features area chefs preparing easy recipes, nutritional information for parents, raffles for fresh produce and games to encourage physical activity. The learning continues beyond each Chef Night with a weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables as classroom snacks.
"We are trying to promote locally grown foods," said Coordinated School Health Director Russell Cliché, adding that the demonstrations are designed to teach local elementary school children and their families the benefits of eating fresh food at school and serving fresh fruits and vegetables at home.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, poor eating patterns in childhood are major contributors to childhood obesity and chronic diseases.
"Gaining Ground helped us expand the USDA fresh fruit program to after school," said Childs. "We are incorporating a monthly fresh vegetable into the school cafeteria menus. We do chef salads, side salads and vegetables every day. We want to train cafeteria workers to retain nutrients, color and quality in food."
She said cafeteria workers now cook vegetables 30 minutes before lunch instead of earlier. She said broccoli goes in a steamer to provide better texture.
Chef Nights are funded in part by Gaining Ground, an initiative of the Benwood Foundation, to increase the production and consumption of locally grown food. The USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program makes possible the weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables while Coordinated School Health provides nutrition education materials to Hamilton County schools.
Other partners include Crabtree Farms, Brainerd Market and the Creative Discovery Museum.