Vol. 20, No. 6 March 22 - April 4, 2007


Parents Cook Up Good Health at PS 54


Irene Contreras knows it’s not easy to introduce healthier foods to kids, so she’s sneaking some into the refrigerator.

After just a few weeks in the Cornell University Nutrition and Health class for parents at her son’s school, Contreras has already replaced whole milk with 2 percent, which has less fat. But her kids don’t know.

“Instead of the green cap [for the two percent], I took it away and put the red cap [from the whole milk] so they don’t know the difference,” Contreras said.

The nutrition class, which meets once a week for eight weeks and has eight members, is free and in its second year at PS 54 on Webster Avenue in North Fordham. It advocates healthier food choices for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be a secret.  

Carmen Aleman, parent coordinator at PS 54, said parents play a large role in the health of their kids, especially as childhood obesity around the nation increases.

“We have to teach ourselves because children are going to eat what you’re giving them,” Aleman said.

While nutrition is a key ingredient to the class, there is also an emphasis on saving time by planning meals in advance.

“You get home late, your children are hungry, you’re going to call for Chinese, you’re going to call for pizza or go pick up McDonald’s,” Aleman said. “But if we take a Sunday and we sit down and make a meal plan for the week, you can prepare a nutritious meal for your family every day.”

Raquel Rios, a community educator at Cornell University Cooperative Extension, has worked for the program for 34 years and leads nutrition classes for parents at PS 54 and other borough schools. She emphasizes eating smaller portions, buying store brand products, which are cheaper than name brands, and using the food pyramid to make sure meals are nutritious.

“I want the participants to learn to incorporate healthy choices and for them to learn to include variety,” Rios said.

Besides instruction about expiration dates and properly using leftovers, Rios also leads the class in cooking recipes from a Cornell cookbook that was compiled for the program. All the recipes are analyzed and tested by Rios and her colleagues to make sure they incorporate multiple food groups and will appeal to the class.

“We plan the recipes according to their needs and interests,” Rios said.

Class participants each bring an ingredient for that week’s dish and prepare it together. Recipes have included Chinese fried rice, macaroni with turkey and chicken and vegetable stir fry (see sidebar).

Aleman said the classes also offer a chance for parents to meet each other, and cooking at home gives parents and children a chance to bond.

Contreras also wants the class to have long-term benefits for her family.

“If you don’t train them now when they’re young, when they’re older they won’t order a good salad or steamed vegetables,” Contreras said. “I’m trying to give them something healthier.”

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