CAFB Kids Cafe program = a warm, nutritious dinner
January 7, 2009 § 3 Comments
CAFB Communications VISTA
Hillcrest Elementary in Del Valle is enthusiastic about eating healthy foods.
I visited with five of them during a recent Kids Cafe meal, a Capital Area Food Bank program that provides nutritious meals after school to children from low-income neighborhoods. There are 32 Kids Cafe’s in Elementary Schools and Boys and Girls Clubs across Central Texas.
After they told me about the benefits of healthy foods, (“Carrots help your eyes, and apples help your teeth,” said Julissa, 8), I decided to test them with a question: “If you had a choice to eat potato chips or green beans, what would you choose?” All five children yelled, “GREEN BEANS!”
Needless to say, it was a relief to hear that at least some children understand the benefits of a healthy diet, especially since one-in-five Texas children are obese.
For kids today, it’s easy to go overboard eating all the sugary and fattening foods readily available, and often exclusively marketed toward them. The obvious ones include fast foods, sugar-filled cereals, juice boxes with neon-colored sugar water and kid-sized snack bags with greasy chips and cookies.
Most parents would be alarmed if they truly understood the health consequences of these foods and, would probably find other snack alternatives for their children.
Convenience and price are the top reasons many children’s diets consist exclusively of unhealthy foods, and why so many are overweight or obese. Even still, there are Texas families who cannot afford enough food for their families.
One-in-four Texas children lives in a household without enough food. “What these statistics obscure is the fact that both problems are ‘flip sides’ of the same coin – a lack of access to nutritious food in the home,” says Janie Singleton, President of Texas Food Bank Network. “This is why obesity and hunger are being fought in the same neighborhoods, and often, ironically, in the same families.”
These issues ignite the purpose of our Kids Cafe program. Hillcrest Elementary receives fresh produce, lean meats and other healthy ingredients from CAFB. Hillcrest staff members plan a week-long menu of nutritious meals to serve 515 students a week. The meals often include foods they have never tried like corn-on-the-cob or salads with fresh turkey cold cuts.
For some Hillcrest students, the Kids Cafe meal is their final meal of the day.
“It’s my dinner because sometimes we don’t have food in the house,” said Nadia, 9.
Just like 94 percent of Hillcrest students, the school provides Nadia a free breakfast and lunch based on her family’s income level. But thanks to Kids Cafe, Nadia also receives an additional hot, nutritious meal after school.
“Our school has the highest rate of students eligible for free and reduced lunches in Del Valle,” said Ms. Sara Guerra, principal of Hillcrest. “I can’t promise you that they’re getting nutritious meals at home.”
Students admitted to not eating healthy foods at home all the time. “My healthiest meal is at Kids Cafe. My mom makes some healthy foods in the house, but sometimes we go to McDonalds,” said Julissa, 8. “The food at Kids Cafe is healthier than what I eat at home,” agreed Alexis, also 8.
“Sometimes their parents work until 7 or 8 o’clock at night, which means dinner may not be ready for them when the kids come home,” said Guerra. “The food gives them the nutrition for that stamina they need.”
The students agree with Guerra. “If you don’t have food to help you think, then you will fall asleep a lot, and you won’t learn that much,” said Dalia, 10.
Kids Cafe not only serves as a place for children to receive healthy meals, but also as a safe, nurturing place to spend time after school. “It gives us an opportunity to see each one of those kids and to converse with them,” said Guerra.