New Horizon ups the ante for healthy eating

Daniel Niemela, 3, of Shorewood, and Leo Brown, 3, of Chanhassen enjoy some of the farm-fresh cuisine June 29 at New Horizon Academy in Shorewood, including the first themed food, wild rice. The program promotes healthy eating through partnerships with local farmers. (Photo by Chris Dillmann – Sun Newspapers)

Children at New Horizon Academy in Plymouth, and 13 other locations around the Twin Cities, are being served healthier food options.

The pilot program, “Farm2NHA,” introduces farm-fresh foods to help promote better lifestyles through not only eating, but giving students a better understanding of how the food is grown and what it takes to produce food.

“Our menus have always had fruits and vegetables, but what we’re excited about is now that they are local,” said Director of Parent Experiences Cara Johnson-Bader.

The focus, says Johnson-Bader, is to help the children learn about the food that comes from the farm to their tables. New Horizon has partnered with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Partnership for Healthier America to help promote the mutual benefits of family farmers with children and the community. The program includes healthy and fresh locally grown menu items and snacks, a garden center, classroom curriculum, interaction with nearby farmers and community involvement.

“Research shows that the earlier the exposure the more likely the children are to like it and incorporate it in making it a lifelong habit,” Johnson-Bader said.

The program began in the middle of June and features a theme food for two weeks at a time. The first themed food was wild rice. From “Farmer Lyle” in Akin, Minn., the kids not only learn about the foods they are eating but learn about the farmers who grow the food. The Institute helps find local farmers to identify foods that will be good for kids.

In the classroom curriculum will offer the opportunity to participate in taste-testing and cooking projects and read books about nutrition and healthy habits. The highlighted food item for the two weeks will provide the information on the farm and farmers producing that particular food. Then, parents have the opportunity to expand on that knowledge by being provided with support tools to reinforce the concepts with suggested book lists, recipes, cooking activities, apps and web site links.

“We’re excited to be on the cutting edge of this,” Johnson-Bader said.

By 2013, Johnson-Bader said this pilot program would be expanded to all 60 centers. Through feedback from teachers, directors, parents and children, the program can then best incorporate what works the best in providing the freshest food.

The kids don’t seem to mind either.

“The kids really like it,” Johnson-Bader said. “At first they may not have been too sure, but now they are really liking it.”

Along with wild rice, the menu includes zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe, apples, cabbage, winter squash and carrots, running through November based on what’s available locally.

More than just eating

Along with the farm-fresh food that’s provided, the kids also tend to a garden at the center.

Assistant Director at the Shorewood center Amber Hammers says for their garden the kids went on a field trip to pick out the vegetables they wanted to plant. The kids then learned what it takes to maintain a garden.

“They at first were really grossed out by the manure,” Hammers said. “But I explained the nutrients and fertilizers that come from manure and how it helps plants grow.”

With everybody getting their hands dirty, Hammers says it was a good learning experience for the kids because not all vegetables grow the same.

New Horizon centers participating in the program include Eden Prairie, Bloomington, Richfield and Shorewood, among others. New Horizon is based in Plymouth.