Growing Healthy Kids

March 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Melissa Graham

The statistics are staggering. I’m not much for numbers and yet I can even quote them by heart:

- 1/3 of American children are obese (2/3 of American adults)
- For the first time since the marvels of modern medicine, health experts are predicting that children will have a lower life span than their parents (2-5 years)
- 10 percent of America’s health care bills are obesity-related, whether it be treatment for diabetes, hypertension or joint injury and this doesn’t even include mental health related costs
- Illinois has the fourth highest rate of childhood obesity.

It’s bad.

To combat this national scourge, First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced her “Let’s Move” campaign with an ambitious goal of ending childhood obesity in a generation. While I agree with some commentators the initiatives dependence on industry cooperation seems too hopeful, I believe that the national attention brought about my this announcement moves the ball far down the field on this important issue.

In light of the recent unveiling of the White House program, I wanted to share some news of a local initiative intended to pool resources in this important battle.

On January 24, the non-profit that I founded, Purple Asparagus, with the help of a tireless committee,* spearheaded the first Growing Healthy Kids event at Logan Square Kitchen. The Sunday lunch meeting brought together approximately 30 organizations dedicated to educating children about nutrition, gardening, the environment, and, in general, how to lead a healthy lifestyle. It was an event that our board had long tossed around at our meetings. Ultimately, we wanted to provide groups working with Chicagoland kids around issues of food and wellness an opportunity to meet and learn more about one another so that we can find ways to collaborate. As we all know, the issues facing our city’s children are huge and daunting and no one organization can solve them alone.

Photo Credit, Grant Kessler

In attendance were representatives from the following groups:

Academy for Global Citizenship
Chartwells Thompson Hospitality
Chicago Botanic Garden
Common Threads
Food Atelier
Fresh Connections
Green Sugar Press
Good Food Project
Gourmet Gorilla
Green City Market
Growing Power
Healthy Schools Campaign
Organic Life
Seven Generations Ahead
Share Our Strength
Slow Food
The Kids’ Table
Urban Worm Girl
We Farm

Other groups, like CLOCC (The Consortium to Lower Childhood Obesity) and Openlands were unable to attend, but provided their contact information for upcoming events and programs of Growing Healthy Kids.

We were treated to a surprisingly delicious from Chartwells, CPS main food service company, who donating the winning lunch from Healthy Schools Campaign’s 2009 Cooking Up Change Event: Chicken Jambalaya and Tomato and Cucumber Salad. We also enjoyed fair trade, sustainably raised coffee from Crop to Cup.

Photo Credit, Grant Kessler

We’ve heard almost uniformly positive comments from the event – the only small criticism was that it wasn’t long enough. Imagine that, a 2 hour Sunday afternoon business meeting that wasn’t long enough. It goes to show how much we have to say to one another.

Going forward, the Growing Healthy Kids list will act as a listserv providing to its members news about events like Seven Generations Ahead’s Fresh From the Farm Training and CLOCC’s meeting of the Healthy Teacher Network. We also plan to meet for an April GHK Green Drinks at Uncommon Ground to continue our networking efforts. Ultimately, we hope to at some point organize a health fair that will be open to parents, teachers, and administrators who will be able to learn about the programs available to promote healthy lifestyles among their parents and students.

In a few weeks, Purple Asparagus will be posting on its site ( the first version of the Growing Healthy Kids brochure, which provides information on the mission and initiatives of each of these organizations. It’s already been a tremendous resource for those of us in the group and has set off a series of meeting between individual groups. For example, in just this week, I’ve had meetings or calls with CLOCC, Organic Life, and Fooditude.

If you know of an organization that should have been included, but wasn’t, please email me at We want this group to be as expansive as possible.

The only effective way to achieve Mrs. Obama’s important goal is to work together, children with parents, parents with schools, non-profits with for profits and of course other non-profits. To borrow a phrase from her campaign, let’s stop citing statistics and wringing our hands and let’s move.

Are you working on any programs in your communities to combat obesity? Please share any successes, challenges, etc.

*Committee members: Nancy Lufrano, Tim Magner, Nora Gainer, Sara Gasbarra, Melissa Tobias, Trish Rynolds, Ryan Kimura.



  1. Deb Hansen says:

    Thank you to Local Beet for posting this on Facebook – we are trying similar initiatives in Wisconsin schools by working with REAP Food Group, and working directly with school food service!

    • Melissa says:


      I would love to learn more about what you’re doing with WI. Is there a link for the REAP group? Where in WI are you located?

  2. Hi, Melissa

    I am so excited to learn about Purple Asparagus and all you are doing to promote health and nutrition with children.

    It’s something I am very passionate about, since weight issues affected me in childhood (way back in the 60s when not that many kids were overweight).

    I am moving to the Chicago area (Lake Co.) later this year, and would like to become involved with your organization.

    Please check out my blog when you have a moment. I just started it last week, and you will see in my first post that I am passionate about good nutrition for children.


  3. Cindy says:

    Heard of anyone doing similar work in CT?

    • Melissa says:


      I haven’t heard of a similar in any other state. This came about because a big part of what I do for Purple Asparagus is meet with like minded organizations to find ways to collaborate. We’re a 100% volunteer organization and so the only way that we’ve grown has been through partnerships and this is just one big partnership!

      Thanks for joining us. I hope you’ll stick around. I plan to write a second piece summarizing the commentary from the hearings before the state board of healthy on the obesity issue.

  4. Thank you for the work you are doing. Please tak a look at our website and be sure to keep me posted on upcoming events.

  5. Conor O'Malley says:


    Just wanted to point out another group who are concerned with obesity in children: the cooks. I have been working for a small bistro in Evanston for just under a year now. We work with an organization that caters to parents battling, or preventing, obesity and other nutritional issues that may affect their children.

    It made me very proud to work in a kitchen that was adapting to new ways of serving the community, unfortunately the recipes, which varied in desirability, seemed to be have written without any real-world research. Precise measurements are clearly important but it was not uncommon to be asked to add 1/24th tsp of salt, or 1/18th of one egg yolk.

    Chicago chefs constantly inspire me, and I’m confident that beyond consulting in-school diets (and how to efficiently execute them), would generally be as pleased to cater the ‘packed lunch’ as the upscale banquet.

    Admittedly, this sort of catering only reaches a small percentage of the population (thus far), but I was saddened when bumbling recipes forced us to drop the program, and just wanted to take this opportunity to voice the eagerness to facilitate change which I feel is one of the signs of a true cook.


    • Connor,

      Thanks so much for weighing in. It’s great that your bistro was willing to give it a go, it’s sad to hear that it didn’t work out, but I’m glad that you still seem to be optimistic about the whole scene. Out of curiousity, who provided the recipes because those are some awful measurements!


  6. Check out this article on Growing Healthy Kids in Mindful Metropolis.

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