KEWAUNEE COUNTY – School may be out for the summer, but about 45 middle schoolers from across the county were back in the classroom for a week to learn about healthy foods and cooking.
It’s part of a new summer school initiative on health and wellness led by the Kewaunee County Public Health Department. Classes on healthy eating for students in grades five through eight were held in June in Kewaunee and Algoma, and the last one is scheduled for July 15 through 19 in Luxemburg.
Eighteen students in Kewaunee and 15 in Algoma met five times a week, Monday through Friday, for an hour and a half at a time to learn about alternatives to pre-packaged and fast foods. The Kewaunee class also learned basics of babysitting.
Students learned what is healthy about these healthy foods and why it matters, said Kewaunee County Public Health Department Community Health Educator Anna Westmark, who leads the classes.
“We focus on fruits and vegetables, but we also focus on things like lean proteins, healthy fats, antioxidants,” Westmark said. “We’re teaching them things they never heard of; a lot have never heard of antioxidants. This gives (the students) little insights into them.”
Westmark said the children told her they also were able to teach something to their parents when they went home after a class.
The classes encouraged students to try foods they didn’t like when they were younger or foods they were conditioned to not like — for example, the broccoli or Brussels sprouts children have for years been told taste bad.
Westmark cited an instance from her Algoma class of a girl who, when the students were cutting radishes, said she didn’t like them. It turned out she’d only tasted them raw, but the class used the sliced radishes in a soup they made later in the week, and the girl admitted they were pretty good when used as a cooked ingredient.
“It was the realization that even though she didn’t like them raw, they tasted different when cooked,” Westmark said. “From the parents, I hear, oh, my daughter tried this food or this vegetable today. There’s all this peer pressure: Broccoli is disgusting; don’t try it. (In the class), even if they think they don’t like the food, they at least get to try it … And I think the parents are surprised.”
With growing concerns across the country about childhood nutrition and obesity, Westmark said it’s vital to teach healthy eating habits in childhood that hopefully carry over as those children grow into adults.
“Just for anyone to start learning about nutrition at any age is really important,” Westmark said. “And these kids are at an age where they’re just starting to think for themselves, coming up with their own ideas. (Healthy eating) is always going to increase their health as they get older. We’re getting a foot in the door to start thinking about these things now.”
The cooking classes are coming to a close for the summer — the last one, in Luxemburg, is filled to capacity at 12 students — but the Health Department’s summer programming for children continues. It’s participating in the annual Day Camp for Kids held by St. John’s Lutheran Church in Algoma for students in grades one through six from July 29 to Aug. 2.
“It will teach kids about physical activity, why exercise is important,” Westmark said. “It will be about coordination, cardiovascular endurance, agility and speed. It’s fully within our Community Health Improvement Plan.”
The St. John’s Day Camp offers all-day, morning or afternoon registrations for single days or all five days. To register or for more information, call 920-737-2734 or visit stjohnsalgoma.org.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.