From time to time, Suburban Mom and NJ Kids like to introduce you to one of our friends – and hopefully together we can learn about some of the great programs offered throughout our state.  Today:  HealthBarn USA.  We all know that childhood nutrition is an important issue; we also know it can be a daily struggle.  Recently, Suburban Mom had a chance to talk with Stacey Antine, founder of HealthBarn USA.  Read on to see how Antine is tackling this subject and working to make life long changes in our children.

Suburban Mom:  Please tell us your name and title

Stacey Antine: I’m Stacey Antine, MS, RD.  I am the Founder of HealthBarn USA, the author of Appetite for Life and the co-host of the Internet radio show, Family Food Expert.

SM: Please describe HealthBarn USA

SA: HealthBarn USA is all about empowering kids and families to eat fresh foods and live a healthy lifestyle.  We make this one-of-a-kind learning experience really fun and engaging through hands-on gardening, cooking, nutrition and environmental activities on the farm at Abma’s Farm in Wyckoff, NJ and in schools.  We offer a variety of seasonal programs for children, ages 3-12, including summer camp, school and scout field trips, and school assemblies.  We also have nutrition, cooking and gardening workshops for grown-ups, too!

SM:  Who is your target audience?

SA:  We welcome families, schools, pediatricians and community leaders who believe that living a healthy lifestyle is important and value us as a trusted resource to help them or their communities achieve it!

SM: What are your thoughts on childhood nutrition? 

SA: I always say that food has changed a lot from when I was growing up – including packaged food choices and artificial ingredients in many food products.  Given the fact that the food environment is not set-up for kids to be nibbling freely on fresh foods and thriving with a variety of healthy choices, it’s critical that nutrition education be part of their learning experience as early as possible.  Research suggests that nutrition intervention as early as 3 years old is effective in creating eating habits for long-term health and wellness.  I find at HealthBarn USA that many of the Seedlings, ages 3-5, come to the program with formed eating habits that are much easier to modify than when we get the picky eaters at ages 8-12 for the Harvesters program.  I believe that education is key and putting this knowledge into practice is how our curricula are designed and evaluated by Columbia University’s Teachers’ College, so that when faced with choices, kids will make decisions as informed consumers.

SM: What are your thoughts on childhood obesity and exercise (or the lack of it)? 

SA: When kids are overweight, you need to look at the big picture of their environment, which they typically don’t have any control over.  What do they typically eat?  Who cooks the meals?  Is the TV on during meals? Are there family meals and breakfast? How active are they?  Are they getting a good night sleep?  What’s happening in school with grades, bullying, etc?  We need to create nurturing and supporting environments for kids to thrive and empower them with knowledge so they don’t have to accept their situations – every situation can change with parental support or without it (more challenging, but doable!).

SM: Why is it so difficult for more kids and families to eat healthy – what are the reasons more people don’t eat well-balanced meals.

SA: Eating healthy is a learned skill.  I have my master’s in food, nutrition and dietetics and I’m still learning new information all of the time.  If you don’t have the knowledge to cut through all of the marketing clutter about what’s healthy and the latest diet craze, then you get lost in the process and end up being frustrated with a lot of wasted time and limited progress.  That’s why I wrote Appetite for Life as a guide to help parents with an approach that works spelled out simply with 100 healthy recipes, to cook with the whole family.

SM: How can healthy eating benefit kids and families?

SA: Research suggests that kids who eat healthy do better in school (academically as well as their ability to focus) and tend to have less disciplinary problems.  When I’m doing assemblies in schools following lunch, it’s very clear to me what types of lunches the kids ate based on their behavior (chocolate milk, empty calories and lots of carbohydrates with limited protein) and I know teachers feel the same way.  You are what you eat, so make it count by eating healthy for strong body and healthy mind.   

SM: How is HealthBarn helping NJ Families? 

SA: HealthBarn USA is empowering kids and families to eat and living healthy everyday through out hands-on educational programs at the farm and in schools.   The HealthBarn USA approach is based on proprietary curricula that change behavior, most importantly, by exposing families to a healthy way that makes sense and is doable.  The group peer-pressure dynamics in the classes, in summer camp and during field trips and school assemblies is amazing and enables families to connect with like-minded people with similar values about food and family.   In addition to group programs, we are an important resource for families who need a little extra support.  I just got a phone call from a mom whose child has been attending HealthBarn USA camp for 3 years.  He loves gardening and food, but tends to eat too. So, I’m going to see him privately to talk about food choices and maintaining his weight without dieting.  He’s excited to talk with me about the situation because we have built a trusting relationship that he knows can help him.  I also see a lot of children just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and anorexia (which is on the rise) and it’s really rewarding for me to use my clinical RD skills to help families get to a better place for the health of their children.  This is what makes HealthBarn so dynamic and keeps me on my toes daily!

SM: Please tell me anything else that would help our readers understand what you do and how you help.  

SA: A healthy-lifestyle is a different way of living and to do it effectively you need to be educated on how-to do it.  One of my students since 2005 is now a sophomore in high school and she just shared with me that all of her friends are juicing or not eating.  She said that she thinks it’s weird and would rather just eat the way she learned at HealthBarn.  I was so proud to know that she was able to make an informed decision about her food choices as a leader because she had the knowledge to do so.  Her parents (both doctors) made an invaluable investment in their daughter’s well being by sending her to HealthBarn USA and it’s paying off.  Healthy eating is simple, not expensive and fun for the whole family, so try it, you’ll like!