Cooking Classes Help Detroit Youth Break Unhealthy Eating Habits
Youth in Detroit Boxing city center learn to do more than just set up their dukes. Through a program called The Learning Kitchen, offered by GenesisHOPE Community Development Corporation, students in grades three through eight in gymnasium are the best candidates to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Over the six-week course, GenesisHOPE staff share a nutrition lesson, an interactive cooking-as-you-go cooking demonstration and tasting each week with a group of kids gathered in the kitchen at the Downtown Boxing Gym. The Learning Kitchen is just one of many GenesisHOPE programs made possible with funding from the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed). MFF is a state delivery agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of SNAP. SNAP-Ed is an educational program of the United States Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to lead healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programs throughout the state of Michigan.
The partnership between GenesisHOPE and the Downtown Boxing Gym was natural. The gymnasium serves over 150 youth ages 8-18 from across the Detroit metro area with free programs focused on academics, career preparation, social-emotional skills, health and wellness. GenesisHOPE works to improve the quality of life for people living and working in the Detroit Islandview and Greater Villages neighborhoods through programs that focus on community health, community development and youth development.
“We are working towards equity in health,” says Courtney Morrow, GenesisHOPE deputy director. “Our overarching goals and vision are healthy people and healthy places. Physical health depends on what you eat, on your activities. SNAP-Ed understands this. “
Micah Wilson, GenesisHOPE Youth Development Program Coordinator, leads The Learning Kitchen sessions. Due to COVID-19, Wilson taught the courses remotely. However, she takes a hands-on approach when shopping for ingredients and then delivering them to the club before class. After an opening nutrition lesson, two Boxing Gym staff members guide students as they join in, take turns cooking and reading recipe instructions.
Participants prepare food during a The Learning Kitchen session.
“Once everyone has finished cooking, we prepare what we have prepared and taste it together. I’m so proud that they know that we are expecting each other before tasting too, ”says Wilson. “After the tasting, they give their opinion. I ask them, “What would you do differently if you could cook this at home?” Then we start to clean. I let them know that you clean as you go and that an organized kitchen is a safe kitchen. “
The pupils follow the instruction The Learning Kitchen remotely.
Using the Cooking Learning Program developed by Hunger Free VermontWilson shares important nutrition lessons every week through easy and delicious recipes with a focus on healthy, affordable ingredients. Her greatest joy comes when her students report that their mom, dad or grandmother let them cook the recipe for the whole family at home.
“Most of my students were unable to cook at home,” Wilson says. “From the moment they walk, they are told to stay away from the kitchen. After a few lessons they come back and say, “Oh, I made breakfast for the weekend” or “Mum let me cook with her for dinner”. Now their families are convinced they can do it. Students teach parents.
“Children can influence decisions made at home,” acknowledges Jeanine Hatcher, CEO of GenesisHOPE. “Behavior change takes time. What we have discovered through our SNAP-Ed program is how many barriers people face in order to eat healthy, and our goal is to reduce them.
Participants prepare food during a The Learning Kitchen session.
In the Detroit neighborhoods where GenesisHOPE works, people face high rates of poverty and all the associated challenges. This creates a vicious cycle where chronic health problems can prevent people from finding employment, incur more expenses and seriously affect the quality of life.
In addition to The Learning Kitchen activities with kids at the Downtown Boxing Gym, GenesisHOPE offers The Learning Kitchen program for adults. In addition to a cooking demonstration, they learn about portion control, how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, and how to cook with less fat and salt.
“Our SNAP-Ed program is really helping people make healthier food choices on a budget,” Hatcher says. “We share with people how to take advantage of not only their SNAP benefits, but also other programs like Double Up Food Bucks, Senior Project Fresh and other things of that nature, as well as providing overall healthy recipes that stretch the budget. “
Hatcher’s health story inspires his work at GenesisHOPE. In 2015, she was diagnosed with lupus.
“When I eat healthier and eat mostly fruits and vegetables, I feel wonderful,” she says. “That’s what I love most about my SNAP-Ed job: educating young and old about the correlation between food and health. I especially love that we work with young people so that we can help them avoid unhealthy habits that are hard to break.
Through its SNAP-Ed work, GenesisHOPE is also engaging residents so that they can take an active role in advocating for policy change. Hatcher admits that the staff at GenesisHOPE have yet to see the kind of change they would like to see in their community. She hopes programs funded by SNAP-Ed will help catalyze this change, along with an upcoming policy, system and environment change (PSE) forum GenesisHOPE works in coordination with like-minded organizations.
“All organizations have a link with food and health. We work on an individual level. I think the PES will pass it on to the community, ”says Hatcher. “I am excited about what will come out of it.”
Hatcher, Morrow and Wilson see SNAP-Ed Youth Cooking Classes as a way not only to help young people grow into successful adults, but also to help shape Detroit’s future leaders and inspire the next generation to become community leaders and agents of change. .
“Our whole mission is to promote healthy lifestyles and work towards health equity for residents of Detroit, especially residents of Islandview. It starts with food – helping people, many of whom use the SNAP benefits, learn to shop and eat healthily on a budget, increase fruit and vegetable intake, and eat healthy foods more frequently ” , Morrow said.
“I firmly believe in looking to the future,” adds Wilson. “Our children are our future leaders. We need to teach our children to eat healthy and be active as they grow older, so that they know how to take care of themselves when they become adults. It is not something that just happens – being healthy is a learned process.