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The Mechanics
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Health Care Fri Sep 13 2013

Chicago Culinary Kids Initiative: Bringing Healthy Back

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In a culture where spare time is scarce and fast food is plentiful, healthy eating habits can be a bit tricky. This is especially true for young people.

Children today are constantly bombarded with flashy advertising and friendly mascots pushing chips, sprinkles, sugary beverages, and other generally non-nutritious food products. This rise of junk food has taken a considerable toll on children's health. Here in Chicago, nearly one-third of sixth graders and one-fifth of kindergarteners are clinically obese, putting them at risk for conditions like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Chicago City Clerk Susana A. Mendoza and Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka are out to change that with the launch of their Culinary Kids Initiative. The Clerk and Comptroller partnered with some of Chicago's top sports teams to release their new "Culinary Kids Healthy Nutrition Guide", a cookbook and activity guide aimed at promoting healthy diet and lifestyle habits to grade-school kids citywide.

100_2576.JPGFor yesterday's kickoff event at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago, Clerk Mendoza and Comptroller Topinka were joined by kindergarteners from the State of Illinois Child Development Center and team mascots from the Chicago Bears, Fire, and Sky. Chef Stephen Henry from the Palmer House Hilton shared the hotel's kitchen for a cooking demonstration where he prepared a trio of healthy meals from the cookbook including fruit smoothies, ham and cheese pinwheels, and individual cheese and veggie pizzas.

Timing in at just over 20 minutes, the demonstration showed how doable healthy cooking can actually be; not to mention fun and delicious.

This nutrition guide is tailored to make healthy eating fun for kids, "Because it can and should be fun," Mendoza said. "Healthy options doesn't mean boring," Topinka added.

The Culinary Kids Initiative is also aimed at teaching parents how to set healthy examples for their children. Mendoza emphasized the important role parents play in all this. By keeping healthy foods in the house and not-so-healthy foods out of the house, parents can make a huge difference in their kids' eating habits, she said.

Quentin Batteast, one parent on hand for yesterday's kickoff event, said he was definitely planning to integrate recipes from the cookbook into family meals at his home. He admits it's not easy getting his kindergartener to dig into a bowl of kale, but she would gladly eat these healthy, tasty dishes. "Making it fun is the best way to motivate them," he believes.

Though they may not see eye to eye on every issue, Comptroller Topinka (R) and Clerk Mendoza (D) are unified in the fight against childhood obesity in Chicago. It is an issue that crosses party lines, Topinka explained, not just because we all care deeply about the health of our children, but also because it is a fiscally responsible move. "Healthy children save the city money," she said, "that is something we can all sink our teeth into."

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