Nutrition education reaches new heights

Dr. Sotiria Everett, an assistant clinical professor in Stony Brook Medicine’s Nutrition Division and head of the Healthy Lifestyle and Cooking classes for children introduces a group of kids to mint leaves and helps them pick it at the hospital’s rooftop garden on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. The aim of the program is to teach children how to provide for healthy lifestyles. (Photo by Sophia Seda)

For the second summer, Dr. Sotiria Everett, assistant clinical professor in Stony Brook Medicine’s Nutrition Division, is focused on educating children, ages five to eight, in healthy eating and lifestyle choices through a cooking workshop at Stony Brook’s rooftop garden. 

The Stony Brook Heights Rooftop Farm is over 2,200 square feet and its main contribution to the hospital throughout the year is to provide over 1,500 pounds of fresh produce to the hospital’s patients, the children’s cooking workshop and local charities such as the Stony Brook student food pantry and Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, according to the Hospital’s website.

The goal of the cooking workshop is to instill the values of healthy eating in children and expose them to new and nutritious foods, all while having fun. 

 “This program itself is unique because it allows the kids to come out here … they are able to harvest the vegetables, they are able then to take it back inside and cook with it, and then they are much more open to trying new things and to trying the vegetables,” said Annemarie Ng, a registered dietitian at Stony Brook Hospital. 

The dietary risks associated with processed and unhealthy meals are the driving forces behind Everett’s decision to educate young children on healthy eating.

“What we do know is that many diseases that adults face today are related to the way they eat and their diet,” Everett said. “What we also know is introducing good foods and nutritional foods early on in life can help these kids eat healthier in the future, and our goal is to prevent the same diseases that adults are experiencing today.” 

Dr. Sotiria Everett and a workshop participant at the Rooftop Farm. (Photo by Sophia Seda)

In addition to Everett’s enjoyment of the program, the children attending are full of excitement when it comes time for the class, which begins with them reading the recipes before they venture outside to pick their ingredients. 

On July 24, they picked fresh mint for mint lemonade, herbs for feta cheese herb omelettes, strawberries for berry smoothies and ice pops, and zucchini for cocoa zucchini muffins.

Paisley Ferrara, just six-and-a-half years old,  was excited to make the zucchini cocoa muffins, “because I’ve never made them before.” 

The program encourages kids to try new foods and explore their favorite fruits and vegetables.

James Alguiere, another workshop participant, is seven and his favorite vegetable is tomatoes. “I go wild when I eat them,” he said.    

This summer, the program has new goals of sustainability. “We are keeping all of our vegetable scraps and our scraps from fruit we are using and instead of putting them in the garbage, we are actually going to make compost with them,” said Everett. 

The July 24 session presented a new challenge for the kids, who were tasked with planting lemon seeds from juiced lemons after their cooking time. 

“We’re going to plant with them today,” said Ng.  “So they’ll be starting with the seeds today, which I think is also a good aspect that we’re trying to incorporate from the beginning.”  

The program also features six volunteers who assist Everett with the picking and cooking during the workshop. The volunteers include Isabella Liebman and Jennifer Treubig, who are students at the School of Medicine and are majoring in nutrition. 

 “I chose to volunteer because I wanted to immerse myself more into the different activities that are involved in the job [nutrition] and get more experience in other parts, not the clinical side but the agricultural side and really get the whole span of the job,” said Treubig. 

The young chefs marveled at the farm’s bounty.

“There [are] a lot of plants that are growing on the farm up here on the rooftop, and it’s just really amazing,” said six-year-old Holly McGuire.  “I never knew plants could live up here and get sunlight and nutrition. It’s really fun to pick the things that are on the farm.”

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