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Inspiring Healthy Habits

A Free Program Teaches Area Children About Healthy Eating, Cooking and Exercise.

Inspiring healthy habits in teens

Broccoli can actually be tasty. That’s just one lesson children learned during Project Inspire, a free five-day program that teaches 10- to 14-year-old New Brunswick children about leading a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and exercise. The program was started in 2009 and is funded by a grant from Johnson & Johnson.

During the course, children learn about making healthy choices, reading nutrition labels and how to increase physical activity on a daily basis. They’re also taught how to handle kitchen tools. “At the end of the week, participants try diverse types of foods, such as garbanzo beans, and learn to prepare different meals with little to no supervision,” says Leslie Malachi, MS, program coordinator.

The process promotes self-esteem, teamwork and leadership. “We give kids the confidence to try new things and let them explain to the class what they prepared and how they liked it, pushing them to be more assertive,” she says. “By the end of the program, all have tried or enjoyed a vegetable they thought they didn’t like.”

Parents are impressed by the skills and independence their kids learn. “My kids now wake up early and cook breakfast and snacks independently,” says Ingrid Rodriguez, mother of Cami and Sam, 11-year-old twins. “They are so proud of what they make. It’s amazing how just a few lessons gave them the skills to manage kitchen tools.”

Fitness Instruction

At every session, the children participate in 60 minutes of exercise with trainers at the RWJ Fitness & Wellness Center in New Brunswick. They do yoga, Zumba, aqua aerobics and cycling. “My son loved working with the trainers,” says Arsama Raju, father of Aaron, who is 10. “He learned that exercise is important for staying healthy.”

Children are evaluated on what they learn at the beginning and end of the program. “Ninety-one percent of participants have learned something new that has been implemented in their homes,” says Malachi.

The program receives rave reviews from parents and children alike. “Parents thank us for getting their children excited about new foods,” says Malachi. Says Kavya, 10: “I really enjoyed the program. I learned how to make better snacks at home.” Project Inspire is held three times a year—during spring break in April, summer break in August, and Thanksgiving break in November. About 25 to 30 children attend each session, and applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

For more information or to register for the program, call 732.247.2050.