The mouth-watering smell of citrus was in the air Monday afternoon at Monte Vista Elementary School in Highland Park, as students whipped up a salad to show off the cooking skills they acquired through the LA Sprouts’ after-school program.
The program aims to reduce the risk of childhood obesity through the teaching of gardening, nutrition, and healthy cooking.
During the 12-week program, students spend an hour and a half each week cooking and gardening, and develop a stronger connection to the food they cook because they are growing it, USC Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) Project Manager Lauren Cook told EGP.
The students learn kid-friendly recipes, like adding veggies to quesadillas, Cook said.
“[At first] some students are resistant because of preconceived notions of what vegetables taste like… it helps to have peers who say it taste good,” she said.
Monte Vista’s school-site garden was created through the program. Monday was the gardens’ grand opening celebration.
The vegetable garden with pest-repelling flowers is organic—no chemical fertilizer or pesticides are used, said master gardener and garden educator for LA Sprouts Lucila Caro.
Monte Vista is in week-seven of the program that will soon be at three other schools, including Sierra Park Elementary School in El Sereno, said Jamie Davis, previously with USC Keck School of Medicine and now at the University of Texas at Austin.
The program came out of a pilot program at Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Highland Park where Loreto Elementary School, said Nicole Gatto, a researcher at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and the founder of the Milagro Allegro garden.
The data collected on the gardening and cooking program at the four schools will be collected and compared to a control group to see if the program has an impact on healthy eating, she said.
Gatto and Davis’s research, published last year in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, shows that Latino children who participated in the 12-week gardening, nutrition and cooking program lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and increased their fiber intake, according to USC News.
The LA Sprouts educators are bilingual and about 15 students in Monte Vista’s program are from Spanish-speaking families, according to Caro and Cook.
Caro said the children were eager to learn and she actually had to hold them back and ask them to wear gloves the first time they gardened. The students planted seeds and transplanted some plants. They also grew staples like tomatoes, and decided to grow vegetables they were less familiar with, such as arugula, amaranth and eggplant, she said.