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Bridging the Summer Nutrition Gap

Sodexo, Northwestern teach at-risk children how to build better meals

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Have you ever seen a child’s face the first time he tastes tofu?

Despite a few wrinkled noses and funny faces, many participants at a recent summer meal program liked it.

Food service provider Sodexo and the Campus Kitchen at Northwestern University (CKNU) hosted the month-long program to fill the summer nutrition gap and highlight healthy eating and basic nutrition lessons for children at a time of year when many at-risk children are unable to access free or reduced-price meals in school.

“The program is about looking at food in different ways,” said CKNU coordinator Jonathan Eisen. “We’re not just telling kids what to eat. We’re starting a conversation about what they think they know about food, what’s good for you and why.”

Several of the young participants -- all of whom are affiliated with the support services organization Family Focus of Evanston -- got their first tastes of unfamiliar items like tofu, lentils and edamame, a Japanese dish of boiled soybeans. The results were mixed. Some grabbed for seconds while others took a pass, bringing home the challenges of changing eating habits.

Sodexo campus dietitian Justin Heaton used the USDA food guidance system,, to reinforce good choices like fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins. The recommendations included, for example, tofu instead of fatty red meat, brown rice instead of white rice, and quinoa in place of white pasta.

Sodexo created the program, called “Feeding Our Future,” acknowledging that children’s long-term eating habits often are formed at a young age, according to Sodexo district manager Steve Mangan.

“We like to think of this as the start of a life experience around food,” Mangan said. “Many college students we see each day have developed a range of food preferences, and that’s good. But many, too, have locked onto the comfort foods -- pizza, burgers and fries -- that they first came to love as children.”

Sodexo operates nuCuisine, a robust campus dining program that celebrates the Northwestern community’s diverse nutritional needs. The award-winning program serves everything from coffee and bagels to authentic international fare to almost 10,000 people each week on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses in residence halls, libraries and academic buildings.

Volunteers at CKNU prepare meals using leftover food from Sodexo for those in need throughout Evanston and Chicago. The organization is part of a national 33-campus program that uses university and high school kitchens during off-hours to prepare meals. CKNU’s clients include area homeless shelters, the YMCA, YWCA, Salvation Army, homebound seniors and community organizations such as Family Focus.

Topics: Chicago

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