Why you should target children in the fight against obesity
Although pediatricians are well-meaning in their advice that families adopt healthier lifestyles, there is little guidance on how families can incorporate this into their lifestyles and get their children to want to try new foods.
Fredericks believes the answer lies in starting with the child, not the parent.
Fredericks struggled decades ago as a newly divorced mother of 2 to find nutritious foods her children would eat. She found that by involving them in the preparation process, they became more excited about the food they ate and eager to try new things.
Over the years, she has fostered this idea by creating a nutrition education program aimed at school-age children with the philosophy that teaching nutrition through cooking pleasurable meals they can re-create at home can actually change a child’s—and family’s—eating habits.
“We connect with ways to make people raise their self efficacy of what they can do and engage with food so after 1 class, we’ve already turned some light bulbs on for children and for parents.”
Fredericks offers classes for preschoolers with their parents, and older children. She “bombards” them with flavors from across the globe; teaches them how to prepare new things; and simplifies recipes that they can recreate at home.
“What we learned is we’ve been successful in having statistically significant changes in what parents are buying and what children and parents are willing to eat,” Fredericks says.
While children in her program certainly became more interested in what they were eating, and more likely to try new foods if they prepared them, Fredericks says there were also unintended effects of the program.
“Our program really was always designed as prevention, but what’s been so surprising with the children in particular has been the amazing weight loss that has gone on. It’s been kind of astounding,” she says. “We are not giving them diets; we’re not giving them anything but tools for cooking and a lexicon of foods that are good for you.”
Students in her program become more aware of the foods they are eating and go home to tell their parents about it and ask for new things. By learning to prepare foods themselves, the children are helping to invoke changes at home, she says.