How VSU is teaching Petersburg kids that healthy eating, is healthy living

PETERSBURG, Va. — When it comes to health across Virginia, the city of Petersburg has consistently ranked at or near the bottom.

On Wednesday, educators from Virginia State University aimed to change that statistic by teaching Petersburg kids how to make healthy meals.

Some of the kids showed eagerness to take on the next steps in their future culinary careers.

“I’m gonna say, looks like my mama, Shertita Hardy, raised a young chef named ‘Chef Boy Hardy,'” Amir Hardy said.

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Amir “Chef Boy” Hardy

Virginia State University says the secret lesson in this is that the kids are having fun, all while being taught something significant.

“This is a fun way to prep and cook but they’re learning,” said Tara Dickerson of the VSU Public Health Institute. “And I don’t think they realize that they’re learning and that’s the best education when you’re having fun.”

The reason VSU is starting with teaching kids how to cook healthy is simple.

“As we know, Petersburg is last in a lot of health metrics and I believe an intervention with children is how we change the family,” Dr. Christin Haynes said.

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Dr. Christin Haynes

With the mayor of Petersburg present, as well as a number of adults, a group of kids learned to turn fresh ingredients into a healthy lunch.

Fourth-grader Bricyn Banks says he didn’t need any convincing to step up and start prepping her meal.

“I actually love eating healthy,” Bricyn said. “There are stations, and one there was apple juicing, there was queso, guacamole, and tacos.”

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Bricyn Banks

And the impression the event left on the kids was heard loud and clear.

“Healthy food for a healthy body is very important because if you eat too much junk food, you’ll have diabetes and also it can mess up your stomach,” Amir said. “I mean bad.  I’m talking worse than drinking a whole bottle of syrup.  That would not be safe.”

Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham says moving the needle out of last place, is a goal that the city is trying to accomplish.

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“We can’t get them to eat healthy if they don’t know what healthy looks like,” Parham said. “As long as we can bring them through here and show them what healthy eating looks like, I think that the future is going to be bright and us moving that needle on being the least healthy city in the Commonwealth.”

When the event was over, the kids did not leave empty-handed: they were able to take home what they needed to make a healthy meal of their own at home.

“Oven mitts, hats, safe knives, cutting board,” Dickerson said. “We have a load of whisks for them to start baking, measuring cups, measuring spoons.”

And the young chefs certainly liked what they made, because they cleaned their plates.

Soon, it won’t be just children being targeted to eat healthy, but adults as well. Petersburg grown-ups will soon have the opportunity to learn how to take their family recipes and make them healthier to eat.

All while moving the needle, one stomach at a time.

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