Empowering kids to make healthy food choices

By Judy Buchenot For Sun-Times Media April 2, 2014 4:46PM

Cori Cozort and Erin Tobias would like people to rethink snacks and lunch.

To achieve this goal, they are organizing “The Healthy Wonderland,” an interactive food experience geared toward children and their parents.

The free program April 12 at Prisco Community Center in Aurora will be part of the SPARK Early Childhood Education Week of the Young Child. DuPage Children’s Museum, United Way and several other organizations are supporting parts of the event.

Cozort, 28, and Tobias, 29, are new members of the Junior League of Kane and DuPage Counties, which hosts the annual Kids in The Kitchen program.

“The program has been held at Mooseheart, Whole Foods and other places. This year, we decided to team up with SPARK,” Tobias says. “The newest Junior League members are always put in charge of this event, because it is a fun way to become active in the community.”

Junior League is an international women’s organization founded in 1901.

“Everyone joins for a different reason,” says Tobias, an Aurora resident who is an assistant to the food and beverage manager at WeatherTech in Bolingbrook. “The organization focuses on volunteerism and helps women develop their potential through leadership opportunities. There are all ages in the group. I have met women I respect, and I am happy that I know them.”

A primary focus of the Kane and DuPage chapter founded almost 20 years ago is literacy.

“Kids in the Kitchen ties into literacy because you can’t teach kids effectively if they are hungry,” says Cozort, a Naperville resident who is an attorney with a Bolingbrook firm.

“Our concept this year was to make an interactive game where children visit stations that explain hydration, exercise and healthy food choices,” Tobias says.

Children will be given a “goodie bag” to collect a prize at each station they complete.

“We thought having a tangible item from each station would be a way to help them remember what they learned,” she continued.

The last stop in the game is a tasting station where children and adults can try three different items that are alternatives to common snack, lunch and breakfast choices.

The two women focused on fresh choices for children with preparation that was easy enough for a child to complete.

“We think is important that children get involved in the food preparation so they feel empowered to make good choices,” Cozort says. “We also wanted to show parents some simple options that kids will enjoy that can be found in any grocery store.”

Instead of a sandwich for lunch, Cozort and Tobias suggest trying a roll-up using either a tortilla or a slice of lunch meat as the wrapper for healthy fillings of cheese and vegetables.

“We give some suggestions, but there are a lot of options based on what a child likes,” Cozort says. “Just set out all of the pieces and let the child make the wrap, which gives them ownership of the food.”

Fruit skewered on a pretzel is one of their fun snack suggestions. A multi-layered yogurt parfait is their idea for a new breakfast option.

Tobias recommends choosing the granola carefully since some brands are less healthy than others.

“Read the labels when buying granola,” Tobias says. “Look for granola with 10 grams or less of sugar per serving.”

Tobias and Cozort share their recipes for a healthy fruit kabob snack, a wrap-up lunch option and a creamy breakfast yogurt parfait.


Fruit Blast Yogurt Parfait

1/2 cup flavored yogurt

1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit

1 tablespoon granola

1 tablespoon raisins

For the best effect, use a tall glass to create the parfait so the layers are visible. If using frozen fruit, defrost in the microwave for 10 seconds. If using fresh fruit, clean and chop into bite-sized piece.

Begin parfait by placing half the fruit in the bottom of the glass. Spoon yogurt on top. Add remaining fruit. Sprinkle granola and raisins on top. This makes a delicious and nutritious breakfast. There are many variations that can be created using different yogurt flavors and fruits. Instead of raisins, try other dried fruits like craisins or dried cherries.

Wonderful Wrap-ups

1 reduced fat or skim string cheese stick

2 slices lean deli meat

1 toothpick

1 tablespoon mashed avocado

Spinach leaves

Cherry tomatoes

Lay slices of deli meat flat on cutting board, overlapping slightly. Spread with avocado. Lay spinach leaves on top. Place string cheese stick on one end and roll up the meat to surround the cheese stick. Place a cherry tomato on a toothpick and put the toothpick through the rolled up lunch meat to hold it closed.

There are many ways to vary this lunch treat by using different lunch meats, cheese and fillings. For an entirely edible treat, use a pretzel stick instead of a toothpick to hold the wrap-up closed.

Fun-Sized Fruit Kabobs

12 thin pretzel sticks

9 to 12 fruit chunks (strawberries, bananas, grapes, etc)

Wash fruit. Cut into bite-sized chunks and arrange on plates. Invite children to create kabobs by sliding three to four pieces of fruit onto pretzel sticks.

To reduce the chance of breaking the pretzel while skewering the fruit, twist the pretzel as it is pushed into the fruit.

Start with fruits the children are familiar with but consider introducing a new fruit into the mix occasionally. This is an effective way to get children to try new things while having fun.


If you go

Who: SPARK Aurora Early Childhood Collaboration, the Junior League of Kane and DuPage Counties and other area organizations.

What: A free family nutrition event with entertainment, activities and resource booths designed to give children, parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers valuable nutrition ideas and resources.

Where: Prisco Community Center, 150 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora

When: 9 a.m. until noon Saturday, April 12

Admission: The event is free and open to residents of DuPage, Kane and surrounding counties

Web: Visit spark@uwfoxvalley.org.