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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Centre Wellington healthy eating programs teach youth life skills

The programs aim to provide youth with information and cooking skills to make choices that feel good and healthy

Yogurt parfaits, pizzas and peanut butter energy balls are just some items tweens and teens 12 to 14 are making in Game On! and Go Girls! 

These two healthy eating programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Centre Wellington are helping young people learn lifelong skills through guiding youth on what it means to eat healthy and how to make nutritious snacks at home.

Claudia Ferreira, a mentoring coordinator at BBBS, volunteered with Go Girls! for a couple years. Now, she oversees each of these programs at The Grove Hub in Fergus. 

“The kids actually love cooking," said Ferreira. "In both of the programs, they love being part of it. They love seeing it happen, but they’re also listening to the benefits of what they’re eating, and all that kind of stuff.”

Each youth program runs for seven weeks with 90 minute evening sessions. During these evening sessions, participants learn about healthy eating through making food with facilitators. Along with teaching youth about healthy eating, facilitators also talk about physical activity, which is taught through participants playing games. 

To run these programs this year, participants and facilitators use the BHive kitchen and gymnasium in the Grove Hub. Ferreira said they were able to use the facility after it first opened in March 2020.

Prior to this, Ferreira recalls these programs were run in schools where the snacks were made beforehand, not giving young people the opportunity to make them. 

"While we’re preparing the snacks in the kitchen, we talk about the nutrients that are in each of the snacks and why we chose the snacks for this week, healthy habits and healthy tips while we’re preparing the snacks to take home," she said about the programs now.

“It’s an interactive activity and all the kids seem to like it because they’re getting snacks, but we’re also taking that opportunity to talk to them about important things, which might seem boring if they’re sitting in a room."

Noting an increase in bullying within the community, Ferriera said these programs aim to talk about healthy eating and physical activity in a sensitive matter to empower youth. By providing accurate information, she adds the programs break down misconceptions around these topics, like the idea that healthy eating means eating less or foods you don't like.

"Just learning about things so you feel good about them, and having the correct information so you can make the choices that you want, and you can feel good and healthy," said Ferreira. "Sometimes, youth don't have the resources to correct knowledge, so we try to do that as well."

Cooking skills is another concept taught to participants. By learning the basics, Ferreira said it can make learning how to cook for yourself less overwhelming later on when living on their own.

“We’ve also been trying to use cooking as a life skill that we’re trying to teach kids,” said Ferreira, "so doing really basic things, like what we can do with eggs, and we've tried scrambled eggs and boiled eggs, something super easy, but healthy and they can make at home.

"As they grow up, and hopefully go off to school, they can use that little bit of knowledge."

While working on their cooking skills, youth are also working on their social skills. Ferreira mentions the pandemic has caused BBBS to reduce capacity for their programs, resulting in smaller group sizes for their programs. Through the smaller group sizes, youth have had an opportunity to work on connecting with other participants and group facilitators.

"By the end of it, they've built friendships, they have connections with the facilitators, and they feel safe and comfortable that if they want to play a certain game, they ask to play that game, and they just feel confident," she said.

Building on the success of Game On! and Go Girls! a new mixed gendered youth program has been launched by BBBS called Beyond the Box. This program focuses on creating a safe and inclusive space for youth interested in learning about alleyship and how to advocate for themselves and their community.

To learn more about all these programs, click here.

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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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