Cooking with Miss Yolanda aims to empower kids to make healthy food choices

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Posted at 10:51 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 01:21:38-04

INDIANAPOLIS — When school is released for the day, hundreds of kids spend their evening at the Keenan Stahl Boys and Girls Club on Troy Avenue in Indianapolis.

"All the staff treats me well, Francisco Bravo said. "They give me a place to come after school and they treat me right."

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Indianapolis provides a safe place for more than 7,300 young people across the city to learn, grow and play with five facility-based clubs and seven school-based sites. The clubs are surrounded by some of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in the city.

"If you do after-school and you have homework, they can help you with your homework," Bravo said. "If you like playing basketball, we have a basketball court and during the summer they open up the pool. You can come in the pool and have fun. and make a lot of friends."

Kitchen Specialist, Yolanda Cowell, serves as a mentor for the children at the Keenan Stahl Club.

"Cooking with Miss Yolanda is something I came up with because the kids were always asking me questions about cooking," Cowell said.

She decided to start a class where she teaches students affordable healthy recipes after noticing some of the unhealthy snacks they were eating.

"A lot of times when the kids come in, their parents will give them snacks," Cowell explained. "Hot Cheetos, anything that's hot that has that red on it. The kids love it. I was like why don't I do a segment or a class with the kids on something that they can do, something easy, simple, inexpensive and healthy that they can share with their family?"

So, Cowell started Cooking with Miss Yolanda three years ago.

Cowell sends every recipe she makes home with the kids with the goal to inspire them to make the meal with their family.

"To know that some of them actually are going to take that recipe home and they are going to make it with their parents that can start a cycle," Cowell said. "Does she have any more recipes we can make it home? Because I do have some kids that ask me, 'My mom she wants to know what are we making next?'"

A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that kids, specifically those between the ages of 5 and 11, have gained more weight during the COVID-19 pandemic than before the pandemic.

With this information in mind, the mission behind Cooking with Miss Yolanda is more important than ever before.

For Bravo, Cooking with Miss Yolanda has inspired him to prioritize his diet.

"This past summer, I stopped trying to eat a lot of hot chips. It messes up my stomach," he said. "You need to be on a good diet, and eat well, drink good, stay hydrated."

91% of Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis members are eligible for free or reduced lunch at school and 46% live in single parent households.

Knowing this, Cowell likes to tell the students the price of items she puts in the recipe.

"Some of the families here, they may not have be able to afford healthy food because normally when you go to the grocery store, healthier costs more,"she said. "So showing them these recipes, giving them about how much it cost, they can be like, 'Oh, we can afford to do that!'"

Through a partnership with Second Helpings, healthy meals are included in the membership fee for all Boys and Girls Clubs of Indianapolis members.

Leaders believe by teaching students about good nutrition and physical activity, it will help them build a better future.