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Try It, You’ll Like It

She’s 12 years old and a bundle of energy.

Jahniya Owens bounds through the doors of the YMCA gym, giggling all the way.

She’s fueled up and ready for a day of play because she made herself a healthy breakfast: yogurt with cereal and slices of banana.

That’s a far cry from the ham and cheese Hot Pocket she used to pop in the microwave each morning.

Whipping up a meal is a new skill for her, picked up through classes with Pink and Dude Chefs, a culinary program that teaches nutrition to middle school students.

Directed by the Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, the program is offered through Bethlehem Centers of Nashville and the YMCA’s Community Action Project (Y-CAP).

“You learn how to read recipes and nutrition labels,” she says. “That way you can take care of your body.”

“The teachers are nice and they encourage you to try new things.”

“At the end of the program, you get books of recipes that you can take with you.”

Jahniya’s interest in cooking has increased dramatically with the lessons and her knowledge of healthy eating has improved.

Developing taste buds

Kids don chef’s hats and aprons for the classes, then get introduced to cooking fundamentals such as basic knife skills.

As they become confident cooks and start to understand food better, their ability and knowledge can change their eating habits.

“These settings are a mostly untapped environment for accessing youth and promoting knowledge and skills that ultimately support healthier eating behaviors,” says Carol Nixon, senior research associate at Vanderbilt.

Jahniya has been inspired to develop recipes with her own unique flair.

She now chooses low-calorie alternatives to her favorite meals (baked chicken tenders instead of fried) and eats snacks in moderation: “I love brownies!” (but just one at a time).

Pink and Dude Chefs graduates can share what they’ve learned, and literally serve it up on a platter.

“It was a really great experience,” Jahniya says.

“I like being able to make good meals for my family and friends.”

Want to read more about organizations teaching nutrition in Tennessee? Click here.

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