Kids Cook! is celebrating 15 years of assisting schools and communities in New Mexico in learning about healthy lifestyles. Kids Cook! has brought multicultural, hands-on cooking, nutrition education and physical activity programs to more than 40,000 low-income elementary and middle-school students and their families in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.
The nonprofit program’s partners have included dedicated teachers, principals and families who have worked in close collaboration with Kid’s Cook’s staff. The goal is to encourage families to improve or adopt healthy lifestyles through the introduction of new, local and diverse foods and food preparation, along with learning to enjoy an active lifestyle. The integrated, hands-on curriculum employs interdisciplinary learning that encompasses lessons in nutrition, science, art, social studies, mathematics, language arts and music.
Kids Cook! creates safe and fun environments where students explore food and culinary techniques. Students evaluate what they like, and record and share their preferences. Healthy cooking, eating and physical activities are part of every class. Students and their families are offered support in bringing similar activities into their homes.
From 2001 to 2015, the primary funding source for the Kids Cook! came from U.S. Department of Agriculture education funds. The State of New Mexico has redirected these funds to other education programs. Kids Cook! has participated in some of the state’s new programming ideas. However, based on Kids Cook’s experience and research, conducted nationally and in New Mexico, it is clear that there is no substitute for hands-on experiences to help students and families adopt healthier lifestyles. Consequently, to help meet its goals, Kids Cook! has adopted a social entrepreneurship business model that combines the passion of the organization’s social mission with businesslike discipline, innovation and determination.
Kids Cook’s new initiatives include:
1) The new Kids Cook! Community Health Worker (CHW) model, funded by Presbyterian Healthcare Services (PHS), which combines classroom wellness activities, family group activities and individualized support for families.
2) Fūdrr – a new healthy lifestyle app, also funded by PHS, which will encourage New Mexicans to post photos and videos of their healthy-eating and active-living activities. Participants will earn points that can be used to buy fresh produce from local retailers.
3) Let’s Cook! a new, four-class series for adults and families, which explores how past experiences influence current eating habits and which creates new positive food experiences with fresh, affordable foods.
4) Our Farmer’s Market cooking classes bring cooking experiences to South Valley and International District residents that buy fresh produce at the Healthy Here Mobile Farmer’s Market.
5) Our innovative substitute teacher wellness initiative will train experienced substitute teachers to facilitate Kids Cook! cooking modules in their classrooms. This initiative will improve the quality of substitute teacher day curriculum while teaching students about healthy lifestyles.
The evidence is clear, when children and families work together in the kitchen to create healthy meals, the entire family benefits and students outcomes improve. We look forward to continue working with our partners to serve as many students and families as possible!
Mary Meyer is the executive director of Kids Cook!