Med Center nurtures local high school

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With the rise of obesity among children in the United States, Saint Louis University is working with local school districts to help students eat healthier. The program, Healthy Eating with Local Produce, is in partnership with the department of nutrition and dietetics and with the Maplewood-Richmond Heights school district in particular.

“It got started when Congressman Russ Carnahan was at a dinner party and heard about Fresh [Gatherings],” Mildred Mattfeldt-Beman, chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics at Doisy College of Health Sciences, said. “[He] sent his aides over and wanted to know why they could not do this in his district. They saw what we were doing [with Fresh Gatherings] and from that, we formed the Healthy Food Initiative.”

According to Mattfeldt-Beman, one of the major issues that the program faced was that schools did not have the proper kitchens to prepare these locally grown foods.

“Your menu drives your decisions,” Mattfeld-Beman said.
For Mattfeldt-Beman, the MRH district is just the right size to test out the program. The schools are medium-sized, and much more manageable to test, but they still provide students an opportunity to be a part of the program.

“Students like the idea of it,” MRH District Food Service Coordinator Carol Kon said. “This is more local, and it educates the students on how to grow food and maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

For students in the MRH school district, this is an exciting opportunity.

“I think [HELP] is very beneficial; the food is healthier and tastes better,” Khemel Johnson, a senior in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights district said. “Our society has a lot of issues with obesity and with this program, we are taking steps to [create] a better lifestyle for ourselves.”

As they began to conceive the HELP program, Mattfeldt-Beman looked at other programs around the country. HELP is part of a larger three-year study to see how locally grown food affects students. This summer, HELP worked on improving the menu and began processing food.

“We put together a training program for the students in the school,” Mattfeldt-Beman said. “If you get kids involved, they will make it work.”

Last spring, HELP held a “Recipes from Home” contest, where students could bring in a family recipe that could be recreated as a meal option for the program. The recipes were judged by professional chefs. Contest winners and their parents got to come into the kitchen to work with a professional chef.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Ernst.