Amid cooking club, homework help, reading intervention, book club, fitness time, and the hum of many more activities, the elementary through high-school aged students at Preston Taylor Ministries’ (PTM) after-school program gather two times each week over a snack prepared by The Nashville Food Project (TNFP). It may be as simple as carrot sticks and fruit salad, or a healthy spin on traditional snacks like pizza with hummus or vegetable chips, yet these snacks have made a big impact at PTM.
“Not only have our students been more open to trying new foods, but we see a better attitude, more even energy and well balanced moods on TNFP snack days,” says Lisa Lentz, director of PTM’s programs at their St. Luke’s Community House site.
The almost 80 students involved in this program are engaged in SPARK (Sport-Play-Active-Recreation-for-Kids), a program designed to promote daily activity and healthy living for youth during after-school time. TNFP’s twice per week snacks fit squarely alongside this mission. These snacks offer a more nutritious alternative to the high sugar/simple carb processed snacks that PTM was serving before partnering with TNFP, supporting balanced energy levels and providing opportunities for the students to experience new, healthy foods.
As Lisa goes on to say, as staff “it's always an adventure getting kids to try new things”, but “teaching and practicing healthy snacking is a big part of what we do with our students. At first, it was a challenge but gradually they have learned that all they need to do is take one bite and then make a decision.”
Further, these snacks promote relationship building between the students and PTM staff while enhancing what they are learning through the SPARK program. PTM staff are often the first ones to try the snack, poking into the TNFP pans to see what creative snack is on the day’s menu.
TNFP also prepares a hot, made-from-scratch meal for PTM’s quarterly community suppers, providing an opportunity for students, families, and staff to share a nutritious meal together. Students prepare the room when programming is over, putting out chairs and setting tables as the space is filled with a growing excitement. Music is turned on and students begin dancing as they wait eagerly for their families to arrive.
“Eating together just takes the relationship between our staff and families to a deeper level. Conversation can slow down because they aren't rushing out the door and topics can meander off the daily grind to a more personal nature” says Lisa. Over the course of the year, this program has grown steadily, from 45 people at the first supper to 120 at the last!
In partnership with Preston Taylor Ministries, The Nashville Food Project provides twice weekly snacks and quarterly suppers for PTM’s after-school program. Yet, these seemingly small additions of nutritious food, have had big impact on the students, the staff, and the families of PTM, supporting healthy living and building relationships over the simple act of good food.