Every Kid Deserves a Healthy Start

December 23, 2016

We all know that for kids to be healthy they need access and positive exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables. But the industrial food system often isn’t designed for kids’ health: with processed foods so readily available (and often cheaper), a third of our children will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. CUESA’s Foodwise Kids program aims to turn that tide.

As 2016 comes to a close, we’re featuring members of our community who embody the healthy world we are building together. Today we’d like you to meet Pamela Gee, a first-grade teacher at Longfellow Elementary School in the Crocker Amazon district of San Francisco. She was a Green Team leader for several years, teaching students about gardening, composting, and recycling. Since 2012, she has been bringing her classes to CUESA’s Foodwise Kids program, a free farmers market field trip and cooking class that inspires kids to love fresh fruits and vegetables.

By donating to CUESA, you give this program to 2,500 students each year, and support teachers like Pamela in being healthy food educators. She says:

Reintroducing Fresh

Longfellow Elementary is a large school that serves 588 students. It’s diverse, with many Latino, Chinese, and Filipino students. About 84% of the students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and all of the students receive free lunch.

The students and families I work with get a lot of mixed messages about food, and they’re not always being exposed to fresh fruits and vegetables at home. Many of our parents are not necessarily educated about healthy eating, since my generation was not generally taught that in school or even college. It’s not the kids’ or parents’ fault, though. It’s only recently that there’s been a push in schools to teach kids about eating healthier, because of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. I think we’re going in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.

There’s a lot of advertising directed at kids, so I teach my students to be smart about reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists. I’ve taught them a bit about food marketing, and how food companies can try to trick kids. It really opens their eyes.

Building Flavor into the Curriculum

I heard about CUESA’s Foodwise Kids program through our school’s nutrition teacher, and I have brought my classes four times so far. It is one of my favorite field trips! It’s is a fantastic program for students, teachers, and parents.

The field trip integrates all subjects into the curriculum and hits a lot of our first-grade standards, from math (planning what produce to buy and budgeting) to science (observing plant life cycles, and identifying parts of plants and their jobs) to social studies (talking about money, goods, and services). We are required to teach health lessons, and Foodwise Kids definitely covers that. They learn the whole farm-to-table process.

The program also builds kids’ cooking confidence. When students first come to the program, many say, “I can’t cook!” or “My parents never let me cook!” And then they get in the kitchen and learn how to use knives and how to make a few dishes. They take pride in what they’ve made and become receptive to trying new foods. I work with a lot of students who may not normally eat raw fruits and vegetables, and the trip exposes them to how delicious they can be.

The experience sticks with them, and they always remember everything that we tasted or cooked. For example, this year we went in the fall and there were persimmons at the farmers market. Now every time I bring a persimmon into class for a snack, they’re like, “Oh, a persimmon!” We taste tested butternut squash soup just recently, and they remembered seeing squash from our farmers market field trip, too.

It’s also educational for the parents who come along as chaperones because they get exposed to different fruits and vegetables that they’ve maybe never seen or eaten. Both the parents and kids take those ideas home with them.

Paying It Forward for a Healthy Future

We need Foodwise Kids to help provide children with a positive introduction to fruit and vegetables, and help them understand the difference between whole and processed foods. For many kids who are used to getting their food from the supermarket, this program connects them back to nature, and it shows them where food actually comes from. It helps them understand how lucky we are in the Bay Area to have access to so much fresh, locally grown produce.

I feel fortunate that I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I went to farmers markets when I was a kid. I’ve carried that appreciation for whole foods with me throughout my life. That’s why I feel it’s is so important to expose children to healthy food and farmers markets. We have to start them young!

We need to better support our local farmers, so that they’ll be able to continue producing healthy food for us and farming sustainably into the future. Our children’s health depends on it. That’s why we need to nurture kids’ tastes for real food from an early age. Foodwise Kids gives students access to the wonderful food that we grow in California, and it teaches them how to enjoy it.

A gift to CUESA helps teachers like Pamela nourish kids’ natural love of fresh fruits and vegetables, introducing them to healthy eating habits they will remember for a lifetime. Build the foundation for a healthy food future. Make a tax-deductible donation today.

Pamela Gee pictured at top. Student photos depict John Yehall Chin Elementary, a school that is also served by Foodwise Kids, taken by Amanda Lynn Photography.

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