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Johnson remembers students commenting that the herb smells like pizza or spaghetti, and she explained that’s because it’s one of the ingredients in pizza sauce.

The remoteness of Navajo Nation communities like Naschitti means many residents have limited access to fresh food. A conference next week at the Farmington Civic Center aims to address that issue by helping educators find ways to teach students in rural areas about healthy lifestyles.

The National Conference on Cultural-Based Nutrition and Fitness for Native American Youth is organized by Capacity Builders, the Farmington nonprofit at which Johnson works. Last year, the organization received a $2 million Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund its fitness and nutrition work with the Central Consolidated School District. The grant also paid for the conference.

Chef Nephi Craig will present at the conference. Craig, who is half Navajo and a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, will focus on traditional Native American foods.

“That’s their culture,” Johnson explained. “That’s their life.”

Johnson said this could be something like how to make frybread healthier by using whole wheat or corn flour, rather than white flour. At times, it can be difficult to incorporate nutrition into schools, Johnson said.

“If they can fit it in with a science lesson or something like that, then they’ll do it,” she said.

Her weekly cooking classes at Naschitti Elementary School — put together using materials from Cooking With Kids — fit in with the Common Core curriculum, and she incorporates other subjects like history, English and math into the lessons.

Cooking With Kids is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that provides nutrition curriculum for different age groups. At next week’s conference, program representatives will lead a workshop from 2:45 to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

In Johnson’s classes, students cook on certain days, and, other times, they explore food groups. Once, Johnson brought in a variety of root vegetables, including different colored carrots.

“They were completely blown away,” she said.

But, Johnson said, she doesn’t require students to try new foods.

“I’m not trying to force eat healthy down their throat,” she said.

While pizza was a hit, other recipes have not been as popular. Most of the students did not like the tri-color salad with lemon vinaigrette, Johnson said, explaining many thought it was too sour.

In addition to nutrition, next week’s conference will focus on fitness. Keynote speaker Mike Kuczala, author of “The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement,” will talk about physical fitness in the classroom.

Capacity Builders has also been promoting that in CCSD schools. In addition to bringing fresh foods to classrooms, the organization teaches children to exercise without gym equipment to overcome the reservation’s shortage of gyms, said Cindy Charley, a program specialist with Capacity Builders.

For example, the organization implemented HOPSports in six schools. The program streams videos of professional athletes to students in physical education classes. Through Capacity Builders, schools can also arrange for a personal trainer, Zumba teacher or martial arts instructor to lead classes at a school.

The nonprofit also introduces students to gyms. Later this year, staff plan to take students from Naschitti Elementary School to the San Juan College climbing wall.

Charley said educating children at a young age gets them on the path to a lifelong healthy lifestyle.

“They need to exercise every day,” she said.

IF YOU GO


What: National Conference on Cultural-Based Nutrition and Fitness for Native American Youth

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday

Zumba: 4:15 to 5 p.m. Tuesday after the conference

Where: Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.

Cost: Free

Register: Go to capacitybuilders.info

More info: 505-326-4525


THREE RECIPES TO TRY

Middle Eastern Falafel: This Cooking With Kids recipe transforms this deep-fried dish into a healthier food by decreasing oil and using a griddle.

Potato pancakes: This recipe shows children that a few simple ingredients can lead to a tasty meal.

Green and white fettuccine: This recipe teaches children how to make their own noodles the old fashioned way.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.

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