Health Heroes to begin in city schools

Cauliflower tastes better when served by a chef, or so the New Haven Public School district hopes.

Local chefs and public officials gathered at Barnard Magnet School on Derby Avenue yesterday to announce the launch of “Health Heroes” and “Chefs Move to Schools,” two district-wide initiatives to encourage students to make healthy decisions through school-wide, health-related activities.

Within the “Chefs Move to Schools” initiative, local chefs will partner with schools to educate young people about food and nutrition through hands-on cooking classes, gardening, and conversations with food professionals.

The New Haven District collaborated with the Yale School of Public Health to develop “Health Heroes,” which uses health-related challenges to encourage healthy lifestyles. Several notable public officials attended the event, including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, State Representative Patricia Dillon and John Magnarelli, a regional special nutrition program director for the US Department of Agriculture. The challenge-based framework of the “Health Heroes” program will first be applied to “Chefs Move to Schools,” an outgrowth of Michelle Obama’s national “Let’s Move!” campaign to fight childhood obesity.

“If kids aren’t eating right, they can’t learn,” said Dr. Reginald Mayo, superintendent of New Haven public schools. “The success of our schools demand that we address the whole child and these programs will help us do that.”

Following a press conference in the Barnard Magnet sustainable garden, chefs prepared dishes in several Barnard classrooms.

Peter Weichner, a chef from the meal supplier Lindley Foods, served a fourth -grade class pasta sauce made from locally grown tomatoes on whole grain pasta.

Students were delighted by both the food and Weichner’s chef outfit.

“How come you guys can’t be in the cafeteria all the time?” exclaimed one student.

Another chef thought there was more at work in the childrens’ praise than the food.

“They love us. We have the fancy black buttons,” Chef Matthew Dillon said, referring to his chef’s uniform.

“Health Heroes” is the product of a partnership between the New Haven Public School District’s Wellness Committee and C.A.R.E., a community research unit affiliated with the Yale School of Public Health run by Senior Program Director Susan Peters.

The program hopes to combat childhood obesity.

Participating students may be asked, for instance, to adopt a particular set of healthy behaviors and report on their progress over a certain period of time.

“If young people appreciate food, it becomes a little cooler to eat it, and it becomes easier to sell them on the fact that it’s wise to eat nutritious food. You see that the fresh peach is better than the canned peach,” Magnarell said.

Those who successfully complete a “Health Hero” challenge will be recognized on the school’s Hero Wall of Fame and will receive Health Hero buttons and prizes.

“We hope that this program inspires all students to challenge themselves to make healthy behaviors part of their daily routines, early in life,” said Peters.

Timothy Cipriano, executive director of Food Services in New Haven public schools, has headed the district’s effort to institute these two initiatives.

Just this past weekend, the healthy-foods lobbying group “Share Our Strength” named Cipriano their advocate of the year.

“He slides in vegetables without the kids even knowing,” said Superintendent Mayo.

The “Health Heroes” program will begin later this month at Augusta Lewis Troup and Clinton Avenue Schools.

Comments