Meet a mother, volunteer, and hunger fighter: Jo Sharples

The following is a blog post from Operation Frontline volunteer and Y Combs Elementary class assistant, Jo Sharples. Her experiences with Operation Frontline and Plant A Row for the Hungry are valued.  Jo’s dedication to these programs is inspiring the OFL students to continue learning the value of nutrition while helping the community.

A Parent's Perspective

I recently volunteered as class assistant for a 6 week Kids Up Front class. I feel motivated to share my experience because I was so impressed with the quality of the program and believe it had a positive impact on my own life, as well as the lives of the participants.

I decided to volunteer for Operation Frontline, as I strongly believe that kids should be educated about nutrition and the benefits of healthy food choices. I wanted to help this worthy cause and in the process hoped to learn practical ways to go about changing my own kids eating behavior. I am a mother of 2 fussy eaters, aged 9 and 5. Although I eat healthily and buy a variety of fruits and vegetables, my 5-year-old son especially refuses to eat them.

I was impressed by the high standard of the course material and the professionalism of the volunteer Chef (Maria) and Nutritionist (Tonya). I loved the hands on approach, teaching kids to cook. It was encouraging to see 9-11 year old kids using sharp chef's knives and cooking at the stove. I had never thought of letting my daughter do more than stir with a wooden spoon. So as the weeks progressed I began letting her chop a variety of vegetables and get involved in cooking at home. She really loved it and I realized that I need to be more organized about involving her regularly.

The highlight of the class for me was observing how the kids tried everything and had 2nd, sometimes 3rd, helpings of healthy food. I think it was proof that if you get kids involved in the cooking process they will be more willing to try to eat new foods. Particularly memorable was the smoothie made from frozen berries, almond milk and LOTS of spinach leaves. Chef Maria named it Zombie Blood, which went down well with this age group. Despite protesting about the spinach, the kids all tried it and many came back for more!

As part of the course, the kids get to plant snow pea seeds to take home and nurture. I enjoyed sharing my own gardening experience... Just recently my kids and myself have started volunteering at a community garden in Apex, and growing our own vegetables and fruit at home (tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, onions, zucchini, mixed greens, strawberries, melon, and a variety of culinary herbs.).

I have also taken on the task of introducing an edible garden at my kid’s elementary school, supported by the PTA. We now have 6 raised beds, built by local scout groups, and my intention is that the teachers will be able to use this as a hands on resource - to connect with nature and learn about healthier eating. We plan to donate any food grown to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Plant a Row program, to raise awareness of child hunger in Wake county. This edible garden can therefore link to curriculum goals in social studies, science and healthful living. During the class, we talked about the availability of fresh produce grown at local farms and the environmental impact of buying food transported across county or imported from abroad.

I hope that the kids in this class share their knowledge with their parents and use the recipes in the take home booklets.  My experience supporting the Kids Up Front class reinforced that the keys to changing kids eating behavior are: educating kids (and their parents) about nutrition and healthy food choices; exposing kids (and parents) to new healthy foods or foods that they are familiar with prepared in a novel or healthier way; getting kids (and parents) interested in growing fruit and vegetables at home, school or at a community garden; teaching basic cooking skills to develop confidence in the kitchen; and sitting to eat a (home) cooked meal together. I would love to see this program offered in all schools and look forward to volunteering again soon.