SAN ANTONIO – The Culinary Health Education for Families program, or CHEF, at the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio is aimed at beating diabetes, hypertension and obesity in local, low-income neighborhoods.
The program, which started two years ago, teaches students about what's in their food and how to make healthy simple recipes.
A 2018 post-curriculum survey found that 83% of club members who completed the CHEF program had changed the way they eat at home, including eating healthier, being more aware of sugar and eating less junk food.
Angelique Gonzalez, a second grader who is in the CHEF program, is now very passionate about eating healthy.
“Sodas are the most important thing not to drink,” Angelique said.
She and her sister, Belen, learned that added sugar in food can lead to diabetes and health problems.
“I want to be healthy and not have the disease, because I've heard other people almost dying,” said Belen Gonzalez, a third grader.
Belen and her sister were inspired after enrolling in the CHEF program.
The program started with the goal of addressing the high obesity and diabetes rates in San Antonio, especially in the neighborhoods the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio serves,
which are typically in low-income areas.
“We get stuck in a rut, particularly in these neighborhoods where families struggle to make ends meet,” said Renee Garvens, chief development officer for the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio.
During the course, the students learn about what's in the food they eat and why it's important to "color" their plates with fruits and veggies.
The CHEF program not only teaches the students nutritional education, it also gets them excited to be in the kitchen learning basic culinary skills, such as cutting up fruits and veggies.
In the class, they make things such as cucumber mint-infused water with ingredients they grow in the club’s garden.
The class isn't just fun for the kids. It has made a serious impact on some of their families' lifestyles.
Claudia Aguirre says feeding her family of seven can be tough, but after her daughters enrolled in the CHEF program, things at home changed.
“I was borderline hypertension,” Aguirre said.
The groceries Aguirre's family buys and the meals they cook went from things such is Flamin' Hot Cheetos, chocolate and sugary juices to healthier options such as Greek yogurt, vegetables and fruit.
Aguirre said it took just one of her girls coming home after that first class to start a domino effect in their family.
“We are reducing salts, reducing different things we were eating before,” Aguirre said. “I'm not borderline (hypertension) anymore.”
The Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio recently received an Honor Award from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for Program Excellence in Health and Life Skills out of 4,500 Clubs nationwide for its local CHEF program.