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OU Helps Children and their Families Become Health Champions

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - Front Page -

It’s a tall order. Develop a program that teaches the basics of how to achieve good health, that helps children learn how to make healthier choices, and that utilizes recipes that are healthy, easy to prepare and economical. 

That was the task assigned to the architects of this year’s C.H.A.M.P. camp at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and one they easily mastered.

C.H.A.M.P. stands for Children's Healthy Activity and Meal Planning. It’s an annual summer camp for 5th, 6th and 7th graders from the community designed by master’s program students and interns, and hosted by Department of Nutritional Sciences at the OU College of Allied Health.  

“We are teaching them about healthy eating, the importance of each food group and how they can put together meals that contain all of the essential nutrients. We also incorporate physical activity and hydration lessons to encourage an overall healthy lifestyle,” said Brian dela Cruz, M.S., R.D./L.D., instructor and clinical coordinator for the Department of Nutritional Sciences. 

Campers also learn the essentials of food safety as they prepare their own healthy meals and snacks. 

“I’ve learned to try new things and be more open-minded. Like some things that I wouldn’t normally eat, I try them a different way, and they are actually good,” said Olivia Finch,11, a participant from Norman.

So how do you convince kids that they can love eating foods that are good for them as much as they enjoy junk food? Camp coaches said it’s all about establishing the right eating environment.

“We know that consumption habits are primarily learned from the eating environment. So the camp provides a fun, interactive way for the kids to try new, healthy foods,” dela Cruz explained, adding that children who have a role in preparing food are more likely to try it and accept it.”

Perhaps it is not surprising then that kids who may turn up their noses at broccoli, devour it when it is served as part of the camp’s ground turkey burgers.

“We had turkey burgers, which was turkey burgers with broccoli and onion in it,” said Sam Scobey, 10, of Edmond. 

“It’s pretty good, especially with the sweet potato fries,” remarked fellow participant Henry Coffman, 12, Oklahoma City.

Jessica Hays is one of the dietetic interns at the OU College of Allied health who helped design this year’s camp. She said there is often a misconception that eating healthy is difficult or expensive, but the campers learned otherwise. 

“Eating healthy is not that hard. It can be budget-friendly, too,” she said. “Another big part is to bring kids into the kitchen. I think it’s a fun way as a family to work together to eat healthier.”

The camp uses special plates, color-coded to match the government’s MyPlate, illustrating not just the five food groups but the appropriate portion sizes for each of those food groups at each meal. 

“So half of your plate should be filled with fruit and vegetables, a little more than a fourth of your plate would be whole grains and then a little less than a fourth would be protein. And you have a serving of dairy, too,” dela Cruz said. “It’s a visual reminder that helps us to eat the appropriate portions of these foods.”

A quick online search turned up a variety of paper and plastic plates that can be ordered as well as printable placemats for use by families at mealtime.

“I think there’s a common misconception that it’s difficult to eat healthy meals or that it’s too expensive to eat healthier, but the meals designed by our students include ingredients that are very affordable,” dela Cruz said. “So hopefully, when these young people are shopping with their parents, they will point out products, and their parents can see that eating healthy can be very cost-effective and it doesn’t take a lot of time either.

In addition to teaching about a variety of health and nutrition topics, the camp focuses on the importance of being active and also staying hydrated.

The theme for the camp this year was Made in Oklahoma, and a number of companies that got their start here or are based here donated to the effort.  

"We're teaching them things that they can take with them for the rest of their lives and hopefully share with their families, too," Hays said.

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