VB Gives Back: Gail Simmons
November 1, 2018
Why is this cause such an important one?
Could you tell us about some of the programs?
What’s your most memorable moment with Common Threads?
What kind of impact has Common Threads made?
It has expanded from serving a single school in Chicago to 814 partner schools and organizations across 15 cities, and the impact on students has been very real. Three separate external evaluations by experts at three different universities—University of Illinois, Chicago (2008-9), the University of Chicago (2011-12), and University of Texas, Austin (2014)—have concluded that participating in Common Threads improves nutrition knowledge, attitudes and healthy behaviors in elementary school students—43 percent now consume vegetables at least once per day, for instance.
And long-term impact?
We believe that having the skills, knowledge and confidence to cook, supports an overall healthier relationship with food and empowers children and adults to make the family meal a priority. Our programs contribute and support a culture of wellness, help teachers model healthy habits, and are aligned to key health and education standards encouraging cooking as an important life skill while connecting to literacy, math, science and social studies. We believe that healthy cooking, eating and living are not only a life choice but also a human right and that food is truly a beautiful and powerful way to learn about the world around us.
As a mother, do you have any advice for parents looking to similarly educate their own children?
I always believe that if you want your kids to be flexible, you have to be flexible too. One thing I learned early on is that children aren’t going to eat everything every day, but it’s important to keep trying. One of the most important things I can do as a mom is teach my children an appreciation of good fresh food and to eat and cook well, even if they don’t want to eat something that seems unfamiliar. My experience is that if they see you eating something over and over and see it in the table and in the fridge, they will eventually come around to trying it on their own. I’m always trying to empower them to decide to eat it themselves, rather than force food upon them.
Any other helpful tips and tools for parents?
Common Threads has some great free tools that parents can reference while teaching their children healthy eating habits. The Cooking for Life handbook is an awesome eight-week, budget-friendly program guide and recipe book that parents can use to help motivate their children to cook and eat healthier. The handbook is totally free and can be requested online. Another great tool is its online learning platform Common Bytes, which equips families and educators across the country with the tools needed to offer customized online nutrition education to students from pre-K through eighth grade.
What are some of your favorite foods and recipes to teach children?
Arepas and frijoles paisas, which pair perfectly together and are both recipes in Common Threads’ Cooking for Life Handbook. Arepas are South American staples; they’re flat, round patties made of ground maize dough or cooked flour. They can be grilled, baked or fried and eaten with a variety of ingredients. I like to accompany my arepas with frijoles paisas, which are beans mixed with a variety of ingredients (usually herbs and spices). These are both fun, tasty dishes that can be easily made at home with the family. You can see me cook both recipes in this step-by-step video.
A healthy kitchen should always be stocked with…
Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, eggs and lean protein, yogurt and nuts too. I roast vegetables in big batches and keep them in the fridges along with grains, like quinoa and brown rice, for quick meal prep after a long day of work. Buy the best quality ingredients you can afford and cook them simply to let them shine!
With Thanksgiving around the corner, we have to ask—what is Thanksgiving like at your house?
As a Canadian, I didn’t grow up with American Thanksgiving traditions or passed-down recipes—but that’s what makes it my favorite holiday to celebrate! I can do whatever I want and cook whatever I want; I’m not tied to the same thing every year. Thanksgiving, for me, is a reason to be in the kitchen, more than anything, which means spicing things up, cooking with friends, experimenting with new ingredients, and trying new recipes. I also like learning other people’s traditions, so for big meals like this, I always delegate other people to bring their traditions to my home. It’s fun to see what they grew up cooking! Now that I'm a mom, I can't wait to build these life-long holiday memories with my kids!
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