Nutrition students teach children how to make healthy snacks

Dwawyne Yates

“I don’t eat pumpkin!” one child exclaimed when he learned the day’s cooking lesson would involve the large fruit.

Mandy Monaco visited the Child Development Center class to teach the kids how to cook with pumpkin. By the end of the lesson, the child who disapproved earlier changed his mind.

“I like pumpkin pie,” he said.

Monaco graduated from Kent State’s nutrition program as an undergraduate in August. She is now a first-semester graduate student in the same department. As part of a class, she leads a group of nutrition students in teaching children how to cook with nutritious foods and prepare healthy snacks incorporating fruits and vegetables once a week at the center. Her major requires that she volunteer in the field.

“This has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my entire school career,” Monaco said. “The early experiences with cooking will stay with them. When they’re older they won’t feel like they can’t cook because they’ve all ready done it.”

On Friday, Monaco led three volunteers through preparation for the day’s cooking lesson on how to make pumpkin apple soup and pumpkin bread. The volunteers cut the onions and opened the can of pumpkin, but they allowed the children to dice the onion, peel the apples and stir the soup.

Lisa Allison is the mother of two children at the Child Development Center. She said her children came home asking to make homemade pizza after making vegetable pizza in class with the volunteers.

“Both of them love it,” Allison said. “I think they like that they can take ownership, and they’re learning about nutrition, and it’s fun. We’re pleased to have the program here. Their students are learning and our students are learning.”

Carol Bersani, director of the Child Development Center, said this program is vital because it teaches children about a wide range of healthy foods that will help their bodies grow in a positive way.

“The whole school was strongly supportive of this idea,” Bersani said. “Children’s early eating habits are important to develop, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables and very healthy snacks is something that all children benefit from.”

Teaching assistant Taja Pope said “We tried the celery and cream cheese and some of them were like ‘Ugh! No! I don’t want to try that. So what we did was cut them up, and I was like ‘Ooh, they look like little smiles!’ and they tried eating them.”

Erin Kleinknecht, a nutrition major and volunteer, thanked Pope for being positive about trying new foods and setting an example for the children.

The program originated as Monaco and her friend Aditi Paranjape conducted their research project for a class on community nutrition. They presented ways the center could improve its snacks.

At that time, the center only shopped for snacks twice a semester, Monaco said. They used dried foods like goldfish, graham crackers and cereals because they stayed fresh for long periods of time and were easy to serve. Now, Monaco and volunteers go shopping once a week.

Contact College of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Dwayne Yates at [email protected].