Health Barn USA, in Bergen County, N.J., isn’t a place where kids go to get lectured on the importance of fruits and vegetables. Instead, they dig into learning.
Founded by Stacey Antine, a registered dietitian and former food marketing professional in New York City, Health Barn USA aims to excite children about good food. Describing Health Barn as a “health education program,” Stacey says, “I want kids to have an amazing, natural experience.”
During 10- to 12-week programs after school and during summers, children, ages 3 to 15, grow their own fruits and vegetables, learn to cook with the farm-fresh foods and go on shopping expeditions with educators who talk about fresh ingredients and the positive effects of making good choices.
“It’s amazing how a child who won’t touch a vegetable will change when they’ve grown it themselves and are tasting a really fresh, authentic type of that food for the first time,” Stacey says. The rule at Health Barn: everyone tries each food at least once, a nod to the picky eaters whose parents have trouble getting them to branch out beyond chicken fingers and mac and cheese. But they do change when they really get hands-on and back to basics with what’s going into their bodies. Parents rave that the lessons learned at Health Barn stick with their kids beyond the classroom; in fact, many parents themselves end up making lifestyle changes to encourage and support their children’s new eating habits.
“I’ve seen kids come in here and change their relationship with food in ways that change their lives,” Stacey says. And for this hands-on nutrition activist, that’s what it’s all about.
By Alyson McNutt English, a food writer in Baton Rouge, La.