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CANFit Getting Kids Healthy in California

Want to add zing to your after-school snacks, while still staying healthy?

Go multi-cultural!

With just a little planning, it’s easy to trade in prepackaged, supersized, bad-for-you treats for goodies that will take your kids’ taste buds around the world. The best part is they are inexpensive, tasty and healthy.

You can slice jicama [a root with an apple-like flavor] and sprinkle it with lime juice and chili powder. Mix grated plantains [banana-like, but less sweet] with sugar. Wrap cheese, black beans and your favorite veggies in corn tortillas. Munch on edamame [soybeans], nopales [prickly pear] and chayote [a cucumber-flavored plant] for more instant and delicious snacks.

These ideas come from a new ethnic snack guide set to be released in October 2007 by CANFit (California Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness Program), with its “healthy-at-any-size” approach to fighting childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is a growing problem in this country, particularly among minority groups. While 27% of white children ages 10-17 are overweight or obese, 38% of Hispanic children in the same age group are, along with 41% of Afrrican-American children (according to the 2003 National Survey of Children’s Health.)

CANFit spokesperson Betty Geishirt Cantrell says, “You can tell someone it’s healthy to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, but if they aren’t accessible and affordable, they won’t be eaten.” Therefore, “For something to be useful, it must be realistic. If your culture has beans as a staple of the diet, how can they be prepared in a healthier way?” Ignoring what is readily available or more common to a particular culture is a “lost opportunity” she says.

Lloyd Nadal, CANFit program director, notes that many of the recipes found in the ethnic snack guide are specifically “Latino-influenced.” Others “have influence from one culture, a few cultures, or are just healthy and things we think kids could enjoy.”

Even better for the children’s busy or frugal parents, these snacks won’t require a trip to a specialty food store. Any local grocery store or food shopping club, such as Costco, should suffice. What you end up with are inexpensive, tasty and healthy treats, typically at less than 250 calories a serving.

While the ethnic snack guide is geared toward California after-school programs (CANFit provides them firsthand with training to incorporate physical activity – such as hip-hop dance – into their programs as well as nutrition education), the ideas can spice up any family’s after-school routine.

Ready to get cooking and stay healthy?

Try these recipes:

Jicama with Lime Juice

1 medium jicama

2-1/2 tablespoons lime juice

¼ teaspoons chili powder

salt, to taste

Peel jicama and cut into sticks.

Sprinkle with lime juice, chili powder and salt.

Plantain cereal

2 large green plantains

3 cups water

¾ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

skim milk

Peel plantains and grate coarsely.

In a medium saucepan, stir together water, salt and sugar

Bring to a boil.

Stir in plantain and any plantain juice.

Reduce heat and cook at a simmer until it is smooth (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Serve with skim milk.

Chili bean dip

8 ounces light or fat-free cream cheese

1 can (24 oz.) light chili

1 package shredded skim mozzarella or other low-fat cheese

Spread cream cheese in the bottom of a small, glass baking dish.

Spread chili over cream cheese.

Sprinkle on cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or microwave on high for 3-4 minutes.


Serve with baked tortilla chips.

Source: CANFit’s A Healthy Snack Guide for your After-school Program

Why are good after-school snacks – particularly ones that tap into ethnic group’s tastes – so important? Just ask CANFit’s director Arnell Hinkle, who is African-American, and program director Lloyd Nadal, who is Filipino, both of whom know first-hand what a difference tasty and healthy foods can make:

Arnell Hinkle: I grew up poor in St. Louis (Mo.) in a neighborhood where it wasn’t safe to be out playing. Our diet was a lot of meat and not a lot of vegetables, and those we had were cooked to death. (At an arts after-school program) when I was 14, I had a sandwich on wheat bread with cucumber and tomato. The taste! I loved it! It opened up the idea that there were other ways of eating. Because my mom and dad worked, I did the cooking. I learned to bake bread and I got a cookbook and tried different recipes. My family thought it was pretty bizarre but it was okay as long as I made things they liked too. I ended up going to chef school and became an organic farmer.

Lloyd Nadal: We have a family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, high blood pressure. It seemed normal that people would be overweight, but that’s not right. I was overweight as a kid. My grandmother always said I had to eat two plates (of food) if I was hungry or not. It was considered a privilege to eat because my family grew up poor in the Phillipines. We ate food like adobo (chicken with a sauce) and pancit (noodles with vegetables) and crispy pata (a fried fish). Filipino food is cooked with lard so it’s often very greasy: 80% of the food is not healthy! Culturally, the thinking is if you are skinny, there is something wrong with you. Being a little overweight was the standard. In high school (before basketball and baseball games),we used to go to McDonalds before (playing basketball and baseball) games and have fries, a burger and a Coke, or go to the local taco shop. I remember feeling sluggish (afterwards). It didn’t make me feel good. I started getting into weight training and really enjoyed not just the sports, but the training. I realized how important it was to be in as good shape as possible to compete, and I loved to compete.  Now I volunteer with two after-school programs and we do exercise programs and I coach basketball. I started a soda-free summer challenge and some kids have actually been successful. I am slowly but surely helping them understand the importance of good nutrition.

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Carrie Saracini
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