This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris


Organic, sugar-free, fat-free, all-natural, fresh, non-GMO, low-calorie – with so many hot topic buzz words trending in the media and on food advertisements, nutrition can be difficult for anyone to navigate. It can be especially difficult for families to instill the value of nutrition in their homes to pass on to their children.

“Nutrition is the science of consuming and utilizing foods by our bodies,” said Christina Ferroli, a Purdue Extension educator in Marion County. “Nutrition is about eating what our bodies need – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals – to grow, be healthy, be active and live a long life.”

Ferroli’s program provides educational programming for youth and adults about food safety, health, nutrition and more. Opportunities include the Nutrition Education Program and 4-H Youth Development.

Ferroli said that “youth development rests on proper nutrition where youth get the nutrients they need to grow and develop healthy minds and bodies through food. Not getting the nutrients in the amounts needed for growth and development set youth up for deficiencies.”

Carol Rice is the owner and chef at Stargazer Inc., a program that promotes nutrition and encourages healthy choices by providing culinary classes for youth. Rice’s curriculum includes “kid-friendly” recipes that help participants try healthy and tasty foods.

“In my years of teaching, I have learned youth are more apt to ‘buy into’ new things when they’re invited in the process from planning to preparing and picking new things to try,” said Rice. “Research some meals as a family, [and] pick a new [fruit or vegetable] weekly. Always make sure the recipes are youth-friendly, and try not to get to caught up in the calories and fat to where it’s no longer fun. Slowly implement healthier items to your menu and daily snacks.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a number of resources regarding childhood nutrition. According to the CDC, diets for youth over the age of two should limit sodium intake and calories from solid fats and added sugars while including a variety of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; fat-free and low-fat dairy products; and a variety of protein foods and oils.

According to Rice, the effects of bad nutrition can cause of poor physical health and mental development, weight gain, stunted growth and poor self-esteem.

On the other hand, “benefits of good nutrition for youth include some of the following, such as [the] development of healthy habits that are carried into adulthood, [maintenance of] a healthy immune system and dental health,” said Rice. “In addition, [youth can develop and maintain] a healthy mental, emotional and physical state as they grow into young adults.”

Ferroli agreed, saying “You cannot short-change the human body and expect good results. It just doesn’t work that way. Certain nutrients the body only gets through food and eating a variety of foods from the five food groups is how we get the nutrients needed.”

For those wanting to incorporate more nutritious foods into their diets, Rice has a few suggestions.

“The best tip I can provide to helping others make better choices is one, try new things, and two, allow the youth to be involved in the healthy meal/item decision-making,” said Rice. “Try with your favorite meals and begin to make healthier modifications.”

Ferroli has a few tips specifically for busy and overwhelmed parents and caregivers.

She said, “The less processed the food is, the better it is for you. However, we all are under time or budget constraints and processed food can be inexpensive, fast and tasty. So, challenge yourself to provide less processed foods. Start with adding more vegetables and fruits, and then look at the grains and try to incorporate more whole grains. Some foods are processed and healthy – look for foods with less salt and less fat. Shop in season for better deals and try farmers markets for fresh vegetables.”

She continued, saying, “Being good role models for youth is the number one way parents, caregivers, family and friends can make a difference and impact youths’ health. Parents and caregivers are responsible for the what, where and when of eating for youth, and youth are responsible for the how much and whether they eat.”

Ultimately, Rice and Ferroli know that nutrition is a family effort.

“One thing families and caregivers can do to support health and nutrition for the family is to participate,” said Rice. “Make a change as a family!”

For individuals looking for a tool to help them plan healthy meals and identify free resources about nutrition, Ferroli suggests using www.choosemyplate.gov.