C.H.O.I.C.E.S: Ashely Keyes, otherwise known as Chef Ashley, is the Executive Chef of C.H.O.I.C.E.S., a non-profit based out of Atlanta, Georgia, that aims to reduce childhood obesity in low-income families. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. was founded in 2002 by Ashley’s mother who wanted to reduce her daughter’s weight problem which began at a young age. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. now aims to influence families by providing them an outlet in which they can learn about nutrition, and how to cook healthy meals on a budget. Chef Ashley teaches cooking classes to families at no cost and views food as a preventative medicine after seeing positive life changes after she began to eat better. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. is funded off of grants, partnerships with local government in Atlanta, local food banks, and donations. Chef Ashley explained that even after all of their funding, families can only come once every 12 months, but they can leave with groceries after the lesson. In her classes, Chef Ashley teaches kids math and reading through understanding recipes, and teaches them a 30-minute nutrition segment during what she calls “Pantry Talks”, where she does an online demonstration of a quick and healthy recipe and will also reimburse families for groceries through C.H.O.I.C.E.S.’s funding. Chef Ashley explained that the most effective way to teach kids is hands-on education. She sees this through her lessons (before the pandemic) in the kitchen where the kids could witness themselves obtain the ability to cook and take that with them outside of the C.H.O.I.C.E.S. location. She also emphasized that teaching nutrition education just in general is incredibly important and beneficial. She sees a major lack of nutrition education in all levels of schools and hopes to see more curriculums incorporate it into their school years. But, with that being said, she notes that C.H.O.I.C.E.S. does a great way of filling in that gap and is proud of the work they have achieved so far, and the families that have touched.
As with any non-profit, Chef Ashley explained to us that they have a deep desire to grow more, both physically and to reach more people, but they need to find more funding to fuel their efforts and to obtain better equipment to put out virtual content. Another niche challenge they face is the integral role parents play in their children’s lives. Even if kids come to C.H.O.I.C.E.S. and learn from Chef Ashley on how to make healthy Apple Butter, for example, if their parents are buying McDonald’s for dinner, then that’s what they’ll eat. That’s why she explained the importance of having entire families come and learn together, which can only be done with adequate funding.
What Chef Ashley and the team at C.H.O.I.C.E.S. are doing is innovative and based upon a sound and passionate idea to teach kids about nutrition and the benefits of healthy eating. One of the most incredible aspects that we realized as a group about C.H.O.I.C.E.S. was their ability to be brought to other cities and be successful there as well.
Rohini Muralidharan is a former Teach for America educator who currently works in an Atlanta based school that sees students from a variety of different demographics. During her time in Teach for America, she taught low-income students living in Chicago. As an educator, she has observed that nutrition is an aspect that is rarely emphasized within any educational setting, especially in low-income schools. Not only is there a lack of funding, but many students in these lower-income neighborhoods are also already academically behind placing greater emphasis on this aspect of the educational journey. Contrastingly, schools are attempting to move towards educating the whole child. This involves nutrition education. That being said, Rohini believes that there is an abundance of nutrition myths, especially regarding what it means to have a strong and balanced diet. Furthermore, there is a serious lack of resources, information, food, funding, etc. that impedes the ability of many schools to educate the “whole” child. She strongly believes that in parallel with curriculum changes and the integration of nutrition centric extracurriculars, there needs to be a systemic change to truly make nutrition education a priority.
Julie Wilcox is a full-time assistant teacher who currently works with 7th and 8th graders in Chicago, Illinois, and has experience teaching children Kindergarten through 8th grade. Based on her teaching experience, she stated there is a real emphasis on food groups and going over terms like grains, proteins, vitamins minerals, etc., but feels there needs to be more emphasis on balance (both eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting enough exercise). She thinks there needs to be more emphasis on organic foods (and that children need to be aware of the harm of preservatives and dyes), and that students need to be taught that the closer the food is to the source, generally, the more healthy it is. She stated that children need to be looking at food labels and understand what they are putting into their bodies. Lastly, she brought up the point that there should be a focus on the production of food and how it affects the environment as well.
Anupama Ganesh is a nutrition specialist for a fitness center located in Chennai, India. She was able to provide us with a variety of insights into healthy dietary practices for children. In her experience, there has been little to no nutrition education in schools. This is especially prevalent with the increase in childhood obesity rates. This call for action due to the fact that nutrition education for children does have an impact on future outcomes. Ensuring that children get this education is important but must be approached differently. Children require more of an explanation as opposed to statements. This translates into the way children are taught about food. For example, instead of stating “Apples are good for you” it is more beneficial to explain to a child that “Red food gives you a strong heart.” It is also important to take into account that every child will crave and prefer more starchy, non-nutritious food options. Instead of trying to eliminate these options completely, it is important to create a diet that sustains a balance between unhealthy and healthy foods. There are many social media accounts that are super helpful when trying to understand nutrition in relation to a child: FeedingLittles and Kids.Eat.In.Color.
Michelle Smith is the mother of four children (ages 2, 5, 7,18), who have attended public schools in a middle-class district in Albuquerque, NM. Michelle has always emphasized healthy eating in her own home; however, it is hard to properly feed four children on just her husband’s salary. Her young children know that green means “good,” and other than that, they have colored the food pyramid at school. Like most parents, Michelle is disappointed that her kids seem more infatuated with coloring the pyramid than they are about retaining the significance of different food groups. One of Michelle’s greatest issues with her childrens’ schools is that most parents bring in unhealthy snacks for their own children (like fruit snacks and Oreos), so her own kids come home asking for her to buy those. In Michelle’s ideal world, teachers would set guidelines on the food that was acceptable to bring into the classroom, because every food that a young child interacts with ends up adjusting their perspective on nutrition. When Michelle takes her children to the grocery store, she happily notices that her 7-year-old daughter points out apples and says “look mommy, I ate that at school yesterday, can we buy?” and wishes that every child can identify nutritious options. Either way, Michelle contributes her children’s knowledge to herself and not to their public education.
Wicked Problem Identification & Analysis
A wicked problem is defined as a “social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.” The lack of nutrition education in low-income schools is defined as a “wicked problem” because of the resources needed to teach nutrition (i.e. nutrition education training for teachers and access to healthy foods and beverages), the amount of people and opinions involved, and because this problem is interconnected with many other complex issues.
In many low-income schools, educators must prioritize teaching students core material (such as mathematics, English, science, and history). Teachers generally do not have the ability to teach nutrition education in school as they may not have the resources and or the amount of time necessary to teach nutrition. The required hours set by the government for nutrition education are minimal, and various schools may not teach any nutrition education at all. When children are not being educated about their health, and their parents are generally not role-modeling healthy eating either, it becomes very unlikely that these children are going to make healthy food and beverage choices on their own. It becomes even more difficult when grocers who offer healthy produce, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes, skew towards more affluent neighborhoods. Not only is nutrition hardly talked about in these childrens’ lives, but healthy options are sparse. Of course, this creates an even larger issue when a significant amount of the population is struggling with obesity and other diseases that follow unhealthy lifestyle choices. Similar to any wicked problem, lack of nutrition education, and the various issues that are interconnected with this problem, may not ever be solved. However, we can at least start by making a small difference.
Using the Theory of Change tool, we can somewhat predict how short-term changes lead to more long-term impacts. The outcome of our project is the humanitarian value that we expect to produce; an increase in nutrition education for low-income students. To achieve this outcome, we defined the people who are both directly and indirectly affected: educators, students, parents, food suppliers, etc. By implementing our solution, we plan to increase students’ understanding of the benefits of healthy eating. In the short-term, this may result in healthier food choices for students and their parents, and in the long-term, may increase the lifespan of these students’ lives.
There is a serious lack of nutrition education within the school system. Furthermore, generally, in low-income neighborhoods, it is more difficult to access healthier food options. This lack of nutrition education and healthy food availability presents the need for more viable options for students to access and receive it. To create more viable options, newly defined nutrition education directives must go beyond the classroom, in order to provide students with a holistic and comprehensive understanding of nutrition. Moreover, the education that parents relay on to their children is inconsistent across households. There needs to be an interactive way to engage both parents and students so that better food decisions can be made. Ensuring that students have access to this type of education could prove to be beneficial for their future outcomes.
Analysis and Insights
There were many helpful insights that our research and stakeholders provided us. These insights will be used when brainstorming solutions, creating prototypes, and formulating our final proposal. One such insight was, parents care about their child and want to help them succeed and live healthier lifestyles. Additionally, parents are also the primary source of food in their households. That being said, specifically in lower-income areas, they tend to purchase groceries that are cheap and easily accessible. Knowing this is critical due to the fact that making nutritious choices is one that goes beyond educational settings. Understanding that designing a nutrition program that places a large emphasis on parental involvement is essential to see successful outcomes. Another insight we learned regarded that many people are not aware of the fact the nutrition education received is not adequate, and the resources that students currently have access to are not conducive to a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. This could be the result of the vicious cycle wherein ignorance causes people to habitually maintain unhealthy lifestyles and dietary practices. This trend is seen throughout a variety of demographics resulting in a general confusion about what it means to be nutritious. By the time a person attempts to understand this concept, it becomes difficult to break the habits that have been practicing for the many preceding years. Moreover, one of the most impactful insights we gained was the fact that many schools lack proper funding to truly provide holistic nutrition education to students. Understanding how to alleviate this funding constraint will be a critical component when prototyping and ultimately designing a solution.
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