Simple Suppers Gets the Whole Family Cooking to Improve Children’s Health
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At a time when one in ten Ohio households report food shortages and children don’t have access to daily food at school, a nutrition education collaboration between The Ohio State University and the Columbus Urban League is adapting to serve even more families during the pandemic.

Simple Suppers is utilizing Google Classroom and Zoom, as well as on-demand videos, at no cost for three local Head Start Centers. Funded by a five-year USDA grant, the program served 35 families in its first two years, equipping families with young children with the resources they need to have healthy family mealtime routines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 18.5% of children are considered obese in the United States, and the rate is increasing among children 3-5 years old. The statistics get worse when factoring income, as children in low-income households have higher obesity rates and worse nutrition, along with more long-term health issues (according to the Children’s Defense Fund). On top of this, requests for food assistance have gone up more than 25% in Central Ohio since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

A previous study of Simple Suppers showed that participating children had healthier weights, along with better food preparation skills. They also watched less TV during family meals.

A hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup is one example of the recipes that families will learn to make during this program.
A hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup is one example of the recipes that families will learn to make during this program.

“We had really just found our footing when the pandemic hit,” said Dr. Carolyn Gunther, OSU Associate Professor and Simple Suppers Project Director. “Moving all programming online certainly presented a challenge. But now we see it as an opportunity to make a profound impact beyond our initial sites.”

Each week this fall (and again in winter and spring), caregivers will meet and discuss family meal strategies for healthy, quick, tasty, and affordable meals via Zoom. The students also receive a brief, interactive nutrition education lesson and have age appropriate food preparation and food safety videos available on-demand, so they can help in the kitchen at home.

And, no the food itself isn’t virtual. It’s delivered via the Simple Suppers team.

“Our families have really enjoyed the program,” said Joyce Grimes, Administrator of Head Start Services for the Columbus Urban League. “We are working with the Simple Suppers staff to ensure that each family receives a weekly Chef’s Crate, filled with everything they need and as much seasonal and fresh produce as possible. It’s the combination of both the instruction and the ingredients that has a lot of our participating families excited to take part and, in many cases, return for another year.”

Example Chef’s Crates include Chicken Tortilla Soup, Sloppy Garden Joes and a Whole Grain Pizza Party.

An example of the Simple Suppers programmed schedule.
An example of the Simple Suppers programmed schedule.

About The Simple Suppers Program

Simple Suppers is an 8-week interactive program (plus one orientation week) that engages the whole family in learning how to have healthy and fun mealtimes. Students learn age-appropriate food prep skills, and their caregivers learn ways to overcome barriers to having healthy family meals (e.g., time, money, etc.) through group discussions and goal setting.

Past Participation: 35 different families through three Columbus Urban League Head Start locations.

Program Components:

  1. Virtual classroom learning for caregivers (group discussions and goal setting around healthy family mealtimes) via Google Classrooms/Zoom;
  2. On-demand videos focused on age-appropriate food preparation skills and food safety for kids, plus a brief and interactive nutrition lesson;
  3. Meal kit deliveries (“Chef’s Crates”), with an accompanying on-demand video to assist in meal preparation;
  4. Interactive magazine (“Simple Suppers Digest”); and
  5. Social media (Facebook) AND text messages. 

Note: Pre-COVID, components 1-3 occurred in person, at the sites. The magazine is new (to enhance learning/keep families engaged between weekly programming). 

Special thanks to Wasserstrom for their generous donation of kitchen supplies to Simple Suppers participating families.

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