NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — With schools switching to an online learning platform due to COVID19, The New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative (NJHKI) is finding new and innovative ways to engage with their partner schools. Prior to COVID-19 social distancing measures, the NJHKI team, supported by the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health (IFNH) student Nutrition Ambassadors and staff members of the IFNH’s Center for Nutrition, Exercise, and Metabolism (NExT), delivered in-person nutrition education, culinary literacy, and physical literacy lessons to students from local schools.
NJHKI routinely hosted Greater Brunswick Charter School (GBCS) kindergarten and seventh grade students on bimonthly field trips to the IFNH’s NExT Center for a fitness competency program. NJHKI and IFNH Student Ambassadors also visited GBCS and the IFNH Culture of Health Academy preschool to provide cooking lessons for young students. Most recently, field trips for 50 Highland Park high schoolers were scheduled for the month of April to participate in a physical literacy program at the IFNH. School-aged students weren’t the only ones who benefitted by NJHKI’s school collaboration. In February, physical education and health teachers from the Highland Park School district were hosted for a full day of professional development on physical movement assessment, healthy eating habits, and participated in a hands-on culinary demonstration in order to learn how to integrate culinary literacy into their school curriculum.
When COVID19 forced schools to shift to a distance learning approach, Highland Park School District physical education teachers Tim Stark and Keith Roig thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce NJHKI to their elementary school students without barriers such as scheduling and transportation.
IFNH Nutrition Ambassadors Jessica Carr, Dana Ikeda, Kiera Nealon, Taylor Van Wie, Vivian Lee, Taylor Viena, Tiffany Calvache, Gabby Harrison, and Nicole Mejia enthusiastically offered their support, developing a series of NJHKI Culinary Literacy videos. The video series features ambassadors creating healthy recipes using simple household equipment such as measuring tools, bowls, and microwaves, and require very few ingredients. The recipes are delicious, easy to make, and are appropriate for all age groups such as Microwave Baked Apples and Homemade Hummus Dip. The videos include nutritional information as well as the written recipe and are offered in both English and Spanish. The hope is that educators will incorporate these lessons into their teaching curriculum and encourage their students to photograph and share their creations.
NExT staff members, Traci McCarthy, PT, DPT, CSCS, Morgan Murray, BS, and Candace Longoria, MS, NASM CPT also offered their support to bring healthy habits into students’ homes via physical literacy. The NExT staff team created physical literacy presentations focusing on power production, balance, strength, and endurance training geared towards students and athletes ranging from elementary school to high school. The presentations cover background information, how to approach training, how different movements and exercises relate, and include at-home assessments and activities. The culinary literacy and physical literacy videos will be posted on the IFNH and NJHKI websites and can be viewed here.
NJHKI recognizes the many challenges we are all faced with during these unprecedented times, as well as the importance of healthy lifestyle habits that can contribute to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. With this understanding, they will continue to develop and create resources to support teachers and students in building a culture of health.