Spotlight Program

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July 2014

Kids Meal Program

Chicago, Illinois
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Since 2001, the Kids Meal Program at Holy Cross Parish in the Back of the Yards has supplied neighborhood youth with a healthy evening meal, nutrition education, and crucial social skills.

In partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the program serves fresh, seasonal food every weekday from 3 to 5 pm and is open to all neighborhood kids between the ages of 3 and 18. All students from the After-School Program take part in the program daily to ensure they get a third healthy meal, which they might not be able to get at home.

The certified head chef always tries to give the children choices about the food they eat. She uses the USDA food plate as a model to show them what a balanced meal looks like. She also color codes menu items to match the recommended amounts on the USDA guide and requires each child to choose at least one item from each food group. By letting them have a choice and explaining the benefits of a balanced meal, the kids feel more engaged and active in their meal times.

To make sure no child goes away hungry, the Kids Meal Program also has a snack table from which kids can take fresh fruit or granola bars after the meal if they need or want additional food. On Fridays, the chef also prepares goodie bags with seeds, nuts, yogurt, and granola bars for kids to take home so they have healthy food to eat over the weekend.

Even though this neighborhood experiences a significant level of food insecurity—meaning families often run out of food before they are able to purchase more, cut the size of or skip meals, and occasionally go entire days without eating—there are high rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes because of the availability of cheap, high-calorie, sodium-laden foods coupled with a general lack of physical activity. By exposing kids to nutrition education and a diversity of healthy foods, the Kids Meal Program alters the eating habits and the kinds of food kids crave.

Using age-appropriate educational materials, program leaders teach the kids about how balanced diets help their bodies stay strong and healthy. The leaders also send monthly bilingual newsletters home to show parents what their children are eating and learning about food.

This nutrition education has made the kids more open to new kinds of healthy foods—they actually ask for veggies! Holy Cross plans to expand this openness to fresh, healthy food with an indoor greenhouse where young people can learn about gardening and grow some of their own food year-round.

Most importantly, though, Holy Cross’ Kids Meal Program does more than just feed kids’ bodies; it feeds their spirits as well. It serves kids who are poor economically and often poor socially. Socially poor kids often come from families with alcohol/drug/domestic abuse. A lot of these kids do not eat any family meals at home. They eat alone, often in front of the TV, or don’t have proper meals at all. Knowing how to sit and have a meal with other people is a basic mark of being a part of society. Children’s comfort level with these skills shows their ability to follow structure, protocol, and societal expectations—while thriving and acting more like happy children every year. 

You can direct your donation specifically to the Kids Meal Program to help us feed Holy Cross’ kids and educate them about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. Remember . . . 95% of your donation goes directly to our programs in the neighborhoods.

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