The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Healthy Home

Partnership Between Y and Festival Foods Educates Families on Fitness, Nutrition

Healthy families begin at home. To assist parents and children to jump-start a wholesome lifestyle, the La Crosse Area Family YMCA and Festival Foods, created an innovative partnership to form Healthy Home. Presented on a personal level, the program educates families in hands-on nutrition lessons and physical activities.


During the dynamic, four-week project, families meet together twice a week at the Y. Led by a registered dietitian, Jenny Dahl, from Festival Foods and Y staff, families learn about healthy food choices and recipes, and participate in fitness classes. They try new foods and new moves - all with the goal to enhance their family's health. "The important thing we took from the program was making the decision that as a family, we want to improve our health," says Teri Young, mom of two. "The exercise sessions were really fun and hopefully will encourage us to get out and play more. 


For one homework assignment, participants are asked to eat a fruit or vegetable they've never tried. Encouraged by her parents, 5-year-old Lauren Wicks shares that kale and salmon are "mermaid food" that she enjoys. Her mom, Nicole Wicks, says her family of five also eats beets, including in a delicious mix of carrots and apples. Another mom, Aileen Staffaroni, admits her three kids disliked the celery she introduced, but at least they tried it, she says.


Giving everyone a thumbs-up for the great effort, Jenny recommends other less common foods, such as Bok Choy and lentils. Along with eating more fruits and vegetables, Teri says they plan to use different proteins, such as beans, in their meals. "This will be a challenge for our 'meat and potatoes' family," she says. 


Another week Jenny introduces families to Festival's NuVal system, which makes it simple to shop for healthy items. More than 80 percent of products at Festival have a NuVal score on the price tag. Ranging from 1-100, the higher the score, the more nutritious the product, making it easier for busy families to find nutritious foods. "Before I learned about the NuVal scores, I would rather have daggers in my eyes than go grocery shopping," Aileen says. "I would get too overwhelmed by all of the choices, such as the walls of breakfast cereals. I worry about my kids' health, and I know that I'm responsible for them."


Through the Healthy Home partnership between the Y and festival, Aileen and other participants shop - and exercise - with increasing confidence. Families learn shopping tips, not only how to purchase more wholesome foods, but also how to save money on groceries. During the exercise portion, families experience Zumba, yoga and outdoor games, as well as learn about flexibility and endurance, and how to incorporate movement into everyday living.


The variety of nutrition and exercise components in Healthy Home builds excitement among the family members. Families simultaneously begin to create healthy lifestyles and stronger relationships. "The benefits that these families see in a relatively short time is quite inspirational," says Quinn Devlin, Y staff member. "Hearing from families that they have started cooking and playing together is the purpose of the program."


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2013