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September 3, 2010 > Healthy food for healthier kids

Healthy food for healthier kids

By Alyson Whitaker
Photos By Carmen Fontaine

When we think of hungry children, our thoughts often go to less-developed countries of the world. TV commercials solicit donations to feed the world's hungry children. But right in our backyard, there are children who don't have enough to eat, and who go to school hungry each and every day. School lunch programs are in place to help abate the hunger, but a lack of government funding drastically affects the food choices available. Processed and often tasteless foods are the regular fare, and frequently lack the nutritional value to sustain kids throughout the day. It is an issue that is often ignored. The shortfall in resources makes it difficult to educate children and their parents about healthy eating habits.

A group of children recently participated in a free summer program sponsored by the Newark League of Volunteers. They got more than recreation as they learned from volunteer Karen Fontaine about the importance of incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into their daily diet.

Karen is the owner of Karen's Kitchen, a home chef and catering business, and works with her clients to develop healthy eating habits in the home. For the last several years, she has been in the business of cooking and delivering healthy meals to busy families. She has seen how eating habits vary among the socioeconomic levels.

The wealthy have both the education and the financial means to provide a wide range of choices when it comes to the foods they eat. For those who struggle to make ends meet, processed, prepackaged, and other fast-food convenience meals are common fare. This type of diet often leads to obesity, not just for the adults, but for children as well. Numerous studies have shown that daily intake of the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains, greatly reduces the risk of obesity and weight-related health issues.

Over the course of the three-week summer program, Karen visited numerous parks, naming her traveling program "Food Fair 2010." She initially planned to have just a visual display and small tasting table with items purchased from her own personal budget. But she quickly realized that the enthusiastic campers were eager to gobble up her display. She sought out donations from local retailers to help subsidize the program. Food Max, Safeway, Wal-Mart, and local grower Perry Farms were all extremely generous in their donations, contributing a variety of fresh produce for Karen to introduce to the children. Many children in the program had never seen a carrot with the top still attached, or tasted a celery stick spread with peanut butter.

As Karen introduced the children to various fruits and vegetables, she was thrilled with the responses. While at first hesitant to try a new and unfamiliar food, the children's faces lit up at the taste, and they were eager to fill a bag with fresh items to take home and share with their families.

Giving children the power to make healthy food choices for themselves is the first step to changing eating habits. Karen brought fresh, frozen, and canned corn and let kids taste the difference. She compared sugary breakfast cereals to a healthier option like oatmeal or a homemade banana muffin. Kids learned that the healthier choices not only provide better nutrition, but taste good and help them feel full longer.

Karen has developed a written plan to take her program to local school districts, starting with Newark. She hopes that with the continued support of local retailers, she will be able to go to school cafeterias and classrooms, introducing children to healthy food choices. Over time, the goal is to empower them to change the way they eat. Through the education of the children and their parents, Karen's hope is that we can move toward building a healthier generation in the years to come.

If you are interested in assisting Karen, or would like information on donating, contact Karen Fontaine at

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