The Valley Initiative to Advance Health and Learning in Schools (VITAHLS) is a collaboration between the Yale Prevention Research Center (PRC), Griffin Hospital, four school districts, and other community partners in Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley. Our mission is to prevent childhood obesity and promote healthy eating and physical activity to K-12 students in Ansonia, Derby, Seymour, and Shelton.
One VITAHLS component - an annual Healthy Cooking Challenge - addresses a need to promote healthful eating by actively engaging students in food preparation. Due to demographic shifts, time constraints, availability of packaged foods, and a decline in home economics education, cooking is no longer the norm for many families. A lack of opportunity to learn to prepare meals can contribute to the obesity epidemic.
The Cooking Challenge provides an entertaining way to promote healthful eating and a passion for cooking. We invite middle school students to create and submit recipes based on themes such as salads or snacks, with each district selecting finalists who compete within their district. District winners advance to compete in the overall challenge, hosted by a chef, with elected officials and other guests serving as judges. Students’ families are invited to watch the competition and sample the food. We award prizes to students, and assemble the recipes into a cookbook.
To evaluate the overall impact of VITAHLS, we will examine trends in body mass index, physical fitness, school attendance, and academic achievement among students in participating schools.
We expect to sustain this annual event over time by seeking dedicated sponsorship from local businesses, to cover the costs of foods, prizes, and cookbooks for future Cooking Challenges, and continued support from Griffin Hospital in hosting this event.