Program stresses healthy eating, family time

Published 9:26 pm Saturday, October 31, 2009

At a cafeteria table in John F. Kennedy Middle School Thursday night, Yvette Jenkins slices cucumbers and tomatoes on a cutting board as her children, Bennie and Aulani, stack deli meats on sliced bread.

The family is participating in family night with the Boys and Girls Clubs. Held every month, the event helps parents — who often work two or more jobs — spend structured time with their children, meet their children’s friends in the organization and find out what they do while at the after-school activity.

This particular family night incorporated Triple Play, a national program designed to help the children form healthy habits surrounding food, exercise, activity and interaction with adults. The children learn about the food pyramid, proper portion size and how to make healthy snacks during the classroom portion of the program, then buy the ingredients and prepare a meal with their families on family night.

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“Triple Play is for the mind, body and soul,” Reggie Carter, unit director of the Boys and Girls Clubs Suffolk unit, said.

The children go shopping for the meal’s ingredients and needed utensils at Wal-Mart a day or two before the scheduled family night. The purchases are funded by a grant from Unilever, the parent company of Lipton, which covers the entire Triple Play program.

On family night, parents and children sit down together and prepare a meal. This week, the two dozen or so participants had grilled paninis and tomato and cucumber salad, and washed it down with sherbet punch.

“It’s great,” parent Yvette Jenkins said. “I enjoy every moment of it. I look forward to it.”

Jenkins’ son Bennie, 9, also enjoys family dinner night — but for entirely different reasons.

“I like it because you get to eat, try stuff and lick stuff,” Bennie said. “It’s good talking about health.” Bennie told of last month’s family dinner night meal — pitas, fruit salad and smoothies.

The family nights in general help not only the children’s bodies, but their minds and souls as well, Carter said.

“It’s interaction they normally don’t get,” Carter said as he watched the families carve pumpkins together before the meal. “We’re trying to get the parents more involved. A lot of them don’t know what we do with the kids.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs is an after-school program, which runs from 2:30 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, that provides structured activities for children whose parents work during those hours. Children in the program can use the time to do homework, play games, and learn from the special curriculum set up for the program.

The organization is funded locally by United Way funding, grants and modest participant fees.

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