NIU nutrition students offer healthy food lessons
Summer means fresh fruits and vegetables, the best of which is often found at farmers markets.
For visitors to the Downtown Elgin Harvest Market, open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday from June through October, sales of the locally grown produce are enhanced with free lessons on healthy snacks – partly at the hands of two NIU students.
Kelly Drought and Brianne Durfey, seniors in Nutrition and Dietetics, work each week with Chef Quincy Owens to prepare a healthy snack demonstration for children, families and all other shoppers at the market.
Their presentations teach audience members how to make simple and healthy snacks, explain the nutritional benefits of the ingredients (most of which are sold at the booths nearby) and provide free samples.
“While Chef Quincy shows the kids how to make the snack, Kelly and I teach about some of the nutrition benefits of the ingredients,” says Durfey, a native of Bartlett.
“To prepare for this, Kelly, Chef Quincy and I discuss each week’s recipe in advance, and he takes care of getting the ingredients and talking with the other vendors to see if they will be willing to donate for our demonstration,” she adds. “Kelly and I then prepare a kids’ flyer which is complete with nutritional facts, the recipe and a fun kids’ activity.”
Response is positive, she says.
“It seems to be such a new idea that many visitors often stop by our booth out of curiosity. When they find out what we are doing, they have a positive response and seem very excited about what we are doing,” Durfey says. “Teaching children to eat healthy is something that is crucial in this day and age. The younger healthy habits start, the better – and parents seem really excited about that.”
In its 14th year, the Downtown Elgin Harvest Market offers and encourages locally grown and sustainably produced food from area businesses that offer fresh, quality vegetables, fruits, bread, meat, olives, spices and more.
The market continually provides an outlet for educational opportunities on sustainable practices and healthy living from local community-oriented organizations and businesses.
Jennifer Benson, manager of the market, says she was excited when NIU professor Beverly Henry approached her about sending students to promote good nutrition.
“We had heard great things about the food demonstrations they were organizing at the Aurora farmers market, and our market was ready this year to head in that direction,” Benson says.
“Both NIU students, Brianne and Kelly, have been organized, knowledgeable, responsible and fun to work with. They are invaluable team players to our market Chef, Quincy Owens, and the market customers,” she adds. “We also have a recent NIU nutrition graduate, Sarah De Ocampo, who is helping us this summer write a weekly nutrition blog, do vendor and customer surveys, as well as price comparisons for the market.”
“Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. If we want to reverse this epidemic and prevent future chronic diseases, I believe education is the key,” the Sycamore native says.
“My favorite part about working at the market is educating children and adults and seeing their positive reactions to what we are doing,” she adds. “We are showing adults and kids quick, easy, healthy recipes that almost anyone can prepare. When people see how easy these recipes are, they are shocked that they taste so good and are so simple. These recipes are a healthy ‘fast food.’ ”
For Durfey, the weekly demonstrations are showing her “how to reach out to children in an effort to help them eat healthy.”
“Being able to interact with kids and get their feedback is very important and helps us to determine how to connect with them more effectively,” Durfey says. “Also, teamwork is important in our initiative, so I am learning a lot about how to work with other people and the importance of strong communication.”