SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Creating healthy habits and getting creative when cooking are things 12-year-old Samuel Avila enjoys doing whenever he can.
“Cooking is like really cool to see, like all the really cool ingredients you have,” Avila said. “You could put in something random, like, you could go from 0 to 100. You’re putting in little baby sauce, to very hot sauce.”
He’s part of a program designed to promote healthy eating among kids from low-income backgrounds. Amber Stott heads up the nonprofit Food Literacy Center, which she founded in 2011.
“Our mission is to inspire kids to eat their vegetables, and we do this by going into Title 1 elementary schools throughout the school district, and we teach hands-on cooking and nutrition,” Stott said.
The latest numbers from the California Department of Public Health show 22% of kids in the state are obese or overweight. It’s nearly double that in the state capital.
“We have a 40% childhood obesity rate in the Sacramento area. Kids now have adult diseases that are diet-related. So all of this is preventable if we eat our vegetables,” Stott said.
Thanks to the pandemic, inflation is up 10%, and a survey from the state showed 23% of Californians don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Meaning, many parents resort to inexpensive fast food to feed their children.
“What we see is that when a kid comes home and says ‘I fell in love with beets, can we go buy beets?’ they’re not asking for a new backpack. They’re not asking for new shoes. It’s a pretty affordable request, and the parents love hearing those requests,” Stott said.
The program used to service a small number of children, but now with a new state-of-the-art facility that sits on 2.5 acres of land, the nutrition ninjas will be able to help hundreds of kids in need. Providing cooking and gardening classes, hands-on farming and a better understanding of food labels, whilst making healthy food fun.
As a middle schooler, Avila has graduated from the program but said that doesn’t mean he’s giving up his healthy ways.
“You know, sometimes you’re just craving chocolate and then you’re like, 'banana,'” Avila said.
And he says he’ll be forever grateful to know now how cool cooking and eating healthy can be.