However, thanks to school initiatives nationwide in nutrition and wellness, steps are being taken to ensure that this generation gets on the path to a long healthy lifestyle.
This past week 5th graders at West New York's new School No. 4 have taken their first steps towards nutrition and wellness with the launch of a program that explains how food gets from the farm to the table.
"We are going above and beyond New Jersey's state nutrition mandates," said Dr. Robert Van Zanten, superintendent of schools. "This program is helping students eat healthier and understand how food gets from the farm to their table."
The students participated in a 20-minute presentation by School Chef Fred Rothschild, who introduced them to the world of baked ziti, a dish that not all students have been exposed to.
The new program introduces students to dishes they are not typically familiar with such as eggplant parmesan, and teaches them how they are prepared. The goal of the program is to get them excited about trying a variety of new foods, and pairing them with other healthier choices such as salads from their school cafeteria.
"I taught the kids a simple dish," said Chef Fred, who talked about the specific pasta used for the dish and why it was used, as well as the origin of the dish.
Afterwards, the kids watched the preparation and were honorary food tasters of the finished product.
"It was delicious," said Mabel Perez, 10.
"We learned about health, and [that we have] to exercise, eat healthy, and sleep well," said Alexis Gomez, 11.
"I have done these demonstrations with other classes and they have all been very receptive," said Chef Fred. "I'm a big kid, so I know how to keep their attention and have become really good at it without becoming a big task master."
Teaching good eating
The nutrition program, which is being financed through Board of Education funds, gives the students a hands-on experience with new foods as the school chef introduces them to ingredients, recipes and innovative ways to learning to eat healthier.
We're piloting the program," said Principal Patrick Gagliardi. "This is part of our district wide health and wellness initiative."
On a weekly basis, different classes will have a chance to visit with Chef Fred in the school cafeteria the day before a new, healthy food is to appear for lunch.
Students learn the main ingredients of a dish, learn how the ingredients are grown, and watch the preparation. Chef Fred also distributes recipes for the kids to take home to their parents.
"The kids in the program experience foods they have never experienced, and are a part of the preparation and [they] taste it."
"We have taken a stance district-wide that we need to be healthier-not just our kids, also the community," he added. "We have been at the forefront of this initiative, and [School No. 4] is a school for the Alliance for a Healthier Education."
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, whose mission is to halt the nationwide increase in childhood obesity by 2010, and reverse the trend by 2015.
The Four Cs
Helping to implement the program is the district's food distributor, New Way Vending.
"We started what we call the 'Four Cs Cafeteria'-which stands for Cafeteria, Classroom, Community, and Commitment," said Sal Valenza, food service director. "We have to look at food service as an investment in children."
To implement the program, No. 4 School hired a chef, and is also participating in the Farm to School Program, where the school works in partnership with a farm.
This December the school will be finalizing a growing contract with a farm that will supply them with fruits and vegetables.
"They will be growing things for us and the kids will also get to go on field trips to the farm," said Valenza.
That way, students will get to see where their food comes from, how it gets shipped and finally brought back to school, where Chef Fred cooks it.
"This is not a strict diet, but we're giving them choices," said Chef Fred, who says the students are already on the right track, and many of them do eat salads and vegetables that are offered at lunch.
"That is the cafeteria aspect [of the four Cs]," said Valenza. "Everything is interdependent, and from the cafeteria we go to the classroom."
As part of the program, food will also be implemented into the mainstream curriculum, including in math problem-solving, and nutritional value in science classes.
The community component of the Four Cs Cafeteria involves before- and after-school programs available not only to students and faculty, but to all families as well.
"We're really pushing our wellness initiative for staff and students," said Fraraccio.
The before- and after-school component will include informational presentations, cooking classes, and even exercise activities.
The school staff was introduced to the Weight Watchers at work program. They can also take yoga classes. Finally there has to be commitment from all parties to make the program work.
"We want to make sure all the components work together and then we will role it out at the other schools," said Valenza.
For more information about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, visit: www.healthiergeneration.org. To comment on this story, e-mail Jessica Rosero at firstname.lastname@example.org