Tween chef

In a world of cheap fast food – fried chicken wings and pizza laden with cheese – getting kids to eat healthy is a tough job. But Kinnect-Ed, an innovative programme has the secret ingredients and is getting young teens to step up to the plate, and onto a healthy eating plan.

Sarah Woodruff, a professor of kinesiology at University of Windsor and Food Network host, Sandi Richard have combined their expertise to devise a nutrition-based cooking intervention and education programme for students from Grades six to eight.

Woodruff and Richard’s decision to target pre-teens is based on the simple premise – children of that age are beginning to develop food behaviours.

“They have not quite branched away from the family but they might start to be having their own ideas, so from my perspective they are impressionable” says Woodruff. “It’s a great age because they listen to your information, they take it in, and they make their own opinions.”

With that in mind, Kinnect-Ed aims at empowering students to participate in family meal planning and preparation of weekly night meals.

“We give them resources and tools in order to get them excited about cooking, in the hope they will take up some of the responsibilities of eating in their own home, which will help to improve family dinners, or at least get them to the table,” says Woodruff.

Kinnect-Ed works on two parallel, but separate levels. Woodruff and Richard work on the messaging surrounding the benefits of healthy eating. Richard supplies the materials and travels to the schools to facilitate workshops, while Woodruff works on the research side, conducting pre-and post evaluations to assess the benefits of what the students learnt.

Richard has used her 20 years experience of working with families on meal planning and introducing a healthy lifestyle into their lives, to develop the materials used in the programme.

Every student takes home a cookbook that he or she can share with family.

The recipes, which have been planned and tested by Richard, are simple, nutritious and all ingredients are readily available.

Although Kinnect-Ed aims at getting students involved in family dinners, the programme also stresses the importance of healthy eating.

“Food intake among children is not very good. We are trying to get the message out to help them learn about the importance of eating well,” says Woodruff. “I think it is important to talk to them, to give them information and knowledge to help them.”

Kinnect-Ed has successfully completed one programme in the Niagara region, where 220 students from three schools, participated in the culinary intervention. Woodruff found in the post evaluation, conducted one month after the presentation, a 10 percent increase in the students involvement in meal planning and preparation of weekly night meals.

The programme has received positive feedback and both Woodruff and Richard have plans to expand Kinnect-Ed nationally.  For them, the programme incorporates their passion for healthy eating and professional expertise.

“The Kinnect-Ed program is my give back. It is something that I have really dreamed of doing,” says Richard. “It is the thing that thrills me, I walk into those schools and I am all emotional because I know what is going to happen to all those families. It’s really cool.”

Although both Richard and Woodruff are committed to the programme, because Richard operates as a private individual, finding funding has been a challenge.

“When I have applied for research funding there have been a lot of the questions around our partnership,” says Woodruff. “It has been a struggle and it will probably continue to be a struggle, but I hope something finally comes through.”


The Research Matters blog periodically publishes a range of stories centred around a specific theme. This story is part of a series on Food and Drink.




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