In the fight against childhood obesity, we are getting back to basics. We know that simple things like eating more plant-based foods, exercise, nutritional knowledge and portion control can have a huge impact. It is generally understood that there is no single solution, rather we need to work together to address this epidemic and realize that everyone counts— the very song that the Together Counts™ program has been singing for the past 3 ½ years.
We agree that while there are many challenges to turning the tide on childhood obesity, one basic solution is often overlooked: teaching our children and families how to cook. For nearly 10 years I have witnessed the incredible impact these skills and experiences can have on a child. In 2003, Chef Art Smith, artist Jesus Salgueiro and I founded Common Threads, a nonprofit organization that teaches low-income children how to cook wholesome, affordable meals. We have worked with more than 10,000 eight- to twelve-year-olds – teaching these students how to cook, share nutritional information to enable better choices and encourage them to practice their cooking skills at home.
(see also The Family Table)
Taking to the Dinner Table
Studies indicate that children who have regular family dinners are more likely to do better in school and less likely to be obese, smoke, drink and do drugs. We believe in the importance of involving the entire family in the program, and hold parent outreach sessions to demonstrate and share what their kids are learning.
We are shaping a lifetime of healthy behaviors, and here is the proof:
- 97% of parents reported that their child has asked to help with grocery shopping at least once since starting Common Threads
- 84% of parents reported that their child has expressed more interest in their family eating together since beginning Common Threads
- 98% of parents reported that their child has shared information at home about the foods eaten and nutrition information taught in class
Reclaiming the Kitchen
A current Washington, DC Common Threads student from Elise Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, Iliana Gonzalez-Evans (age 11), was the first place winner of First Lady Michelle Obama’ s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge recipe contest! In August, the First Lady hosted a lunch for the 50 winners from across the US at the White House, where our very own Iliana won with her original recipe, “Mexican Delight,” a dish inspired by her Grandmother. Iliana sat next to the First Lady and told her that she learned to cook through Common Threads, a true testament to the life-changing power of our programming.
We have learned at Common Threads that by teaching children the love, joy, knowledge and skills of cooking, they become empowered to make informed choices. As society strives to learn more about how to address and prevent childhood obesity, I hope the importance of teaching cooking skills becomes a larger part of the discussion. Common Threads has shown that in doing so, children learn that there is power in food, a choice at each meal, and are given an opportunity to control their future.
How do you encourage your child to practice their cooking at home?
This blog post was written by Linda Novick O’Keefe, the Founding Chief Executive Officer of Common Threads. Her experience, desire to develop innovative solutions to social problems combined with her passion for food led her to start Common Threads with Chef Art Smith and artist Jesus Salgueiro in 2003. Their vision was for a non-profit organization committed to educating Chicago’s youth about cultural diversity, the culinary arts, and the importance of nutrition.