The Norman Transcript

January 19, 2014

Norman after-school program takes on unhealthy party foods

By Michaela Marx Wheatley
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Norman’s Community After School Program is taking a bite out of bad childhood eating habits.

The after-school program, which is serving 17 Norman elementary schools and more than 650 students, has released a cookbook providing nutritious ideas for healthy holiday snacks. There is a zombie smoothie for Halloween, Grinchy Party Poppers for Christmas, and raspberry applesauce for sweet treats on Valentine’s Day, among the many tasty selections.

“Kids in the Kitchen,” the holiday edition, features 49 recipes that are tasty, yet healthy.

“We are hoping to make slow and steady changes to the unhealthy holiday party snack culture,” said Lindsey Ellis, CASP Be Fit coordinator. “When people think of parties for children, they typically think of cupcakes, soda and chips. We are hoping to change that culture at CASP by providing easy-to-make snacks.”  

The idea was cooked up in September by CASP staff.

“We have been slowly trying to make healthy changes to our programs, and we thought that if we created a resource that the staff could easily use, then it would be much easier to provide healthy snacks to the children during parties,” Ellis said.

CASP partnered with the Alliance For A Healthier Generation, which helped CASP receive a grant to increase nutrition education at its Norman programs.

“We were generously awarded $13,600,” Ellis said. “With part of that money, we designed this cookbook to keep at our programs for the staff to use and to give out to parents, as well.”

CASP emailed a copy to all parents earlier in the month and printed 100 copies. The reviews have been positive.

“I think my favorite recipe in the cookbook is ‘Zombie Juice’ in the Halloween section,” Ellis said. “When we created the cookbook, we tried a few of the recipes. I was actually very nervous about the taste when trying the vegetable smoothie, but it turns out that it was really good and didn’t taste like spinach at all. I actually drink this most days for breakfast. We even made it at some of the programs around Halloween time, and the kids loved it, as well.”

The staff chose recipes from among favorites or from treats found during online research.

“Some of the holidays were very difficult to find cute snack ideas, so we just tried to stick to basic theme as much as possible,” Ellis said.

The results speak for themselves. A whole chapter is dedicated to green foods for St. Patrick’s Day, and kid-friendly culinary highlights for Cinco de Mayo made it into the book.

The children were delighted when a group of Cleveland Elementary CASP reviewed the book.

As the children looked through the pages, nearly every recipe drew comments like “I want to try this” or “Looks yummy.”

Elias Sikavitsas said the book offers alternatives to sweets.

“You can live without sugar, you know?” he said. “Fruit is sugar.”

Kaitie Start said she understands why parents want kids to make healthy choices.

“They don’t want us to get fat or get a stomachache,” she said.

With childhood obesity being a hot topic nationwide, the initiative is relevant and timely.

Oklahoma continues to rank high in obesity statistics, ranking 45th in the country in 2013, with 32.2 percent of all adults being considered obese, according to the National Health Foundation.

The problem starts early. One in eight preschoolers is obese in the United States, according to the Center of Disease Control. Kids who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than other children to be heavy as adults, which means greater risks of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, asthma and mental health problems.

It impacts families at such a degree that First Lady Michelle Obama is advocating for better nutrition in schools and educating children and parents about the benefits of exercise and healthier eating habits.

CASP wants to do its share to reverse the obesity trend.

“I feel teaching children about nutrition is very important,” Ellis said. “Children typically think whatever their parents serve them is healthy, and that is not always the case.

“When asking children to name some healthy foods I have heard things like chips, hamburgers, apple pie and so on. They think these foods are healthy because the basic part or the original form of the food is healthy.”

Kids don’t realize that food loses its nutritional value by preparing it or cooking it certain ways, she said.

“Obviously, this one cookbook will not make a dent in childhood obesity, but beginning to change what snacks are served at parties can change the mindsets of children and adults,” Ellis said. 

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