Healthy eating and gardening program to take root in Dearborn schools

More than 4,600 students spread across eight Dearborn schools are set to benefit from a large grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, thanks to the Beaumont Health Foundation and its partners in the Dearborn SHINES for Healthy Kids! program.

Dearborn SHINES, an acronym for School Health through Integrated Nutrition & Exercise Strategies, has been awarded $445,890 from the Health Endowment Fund to carry out the the 18 month-long program, which begins this May 1.

SHINES is a holistic and interactive, hands-on approach to teaching children about healthy eating. Rather than lecturing students to eat their fruits and vegetables, the SHINES program utilizes the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model in order to get its message across. It's a methodology that believes that healthy-eating starts from the top: The parents.

"We haven't received many proposals from this area of the state, but we know there's a need," says Megan Murphy, program officer at the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. Murphy says that more than 61 percent of the students in the area are overweight or obese.

"We like that Dearborn SHINES is incorporating family into what they're doing. Healthy behavior starts with the parents."
The SHINES program has built family engagement into its programming, including family night events and parent committees.

But perhaps what excites Murphy most are the gardening activities. A lot of kids don't even know where carrots come from, or that french fries come from potatoes, she says. In-school gardening will give students first-hand exposure to the food that they eat.

By having direct contact with fruits and vegetables, it will make the students more open to eating them. Things are more meaningful when you build them yourself.

"Seeing. Touching. Doing. Eating. It's a lot more interesting than a textbook," Murphy says.

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.