Get smart & get healthy: lessons from a great cause

Who better to tell us how to instill good nutrition, physical fitness and healthy habits in our children than the people who spend their days developing educational programs that do just that? We take tips and tactics from a non-profi t program leader who is helping our children be well.
Get smart & get healthy: lessons from a great cause
Foto: © Jacek Chabraszewski -

It’s not always easy to incorporate new healthy behaviors into daily life. But non-profi t organizations like the National Latino Children’s Institute are teaching Latino children and families about the importance of good nutrition and wellness. We asked Josephine F. Garza, NLCI’s executive director, for her take on teaching nutrition to the next generation and making it stick: make the lessons engaging and age appropriate

Although adults might be interested in learning about blood pressure and BMI, talking numbers might go right over kids’ heads. One NLCI community initiative is Salsa, Sabor y Salud, designed to teach healthy habits to children and families through eight session. Among the simple messages children in this program learn are:

❚ eat food from each of the food groups

❚ be sensible about portions

❚ be active every day

❚ take small steps toward success

A whole family approach

“This is all about learning together, that is really key,” says Garza. Parents are busy, and when kids come home having learned about good foods and exercise at school, parents aren’t always able to look over the information and put it into practice. That is why programs geared toward a whole family approach have greater success, she says. Typically more mothers attend the nutrition and wellness sessions than fathers, but one couple who attended together were easily able to implement what they had learned.

“The father told me that when his wife first cooked brown rice he hated it, but since he knew why she was doing it, he didn’t complain,” she says. Because both parents were informed and on the same page, there was more support for these dietary changes at home.

Incorporate traditions

This is really important, Garza says. She once asked parents whether

they had taken part in other nutrition programs. One parent said they had but stopped going because the teachers said that all of their traditional food was bad for them. Food is a part of daily life, and it’s important to acknowledge the role it plays. It’s all about how it’s prepared, says Garza. Some simple and easy substitutions can make a traditional dish a lot healthier.