MARC Academy Cooks Up Healthy Habits

Girl running while flying kite

MARC Academy and Family Center in South Bronx, New York, a community center serving children ages 5-12 years old, is implementing a creative We Can!® program by educating parents on the importance of positive food choices and demanding the very best from their food suppliers. By eliminating salt and sugar from their cooking and introducing whole grain products like brown rice, MARC Academy is changing We Can!'s WHOA foods into GO foods one small step at a time. Learn more about GO, SLOW, WHOA foods.

MARC Academy decided something needed to be done when they saw obesity rates rising within their own community. "Too many people are dying as a result of the risk factors associated with being overweight. Too many children have type 2 diabetes," said Executive Director Anna York. "I refuse to allow that to happen to our children here."

They began in the kitchen by changing the type of food they serve to their members, and going to their food suppliers and demanding healthier options like whole grain products and fresh fruits and vegetables. They steered away from pre-packaged goods and focused on fresh cooking. If the ingredients in a food supplied by a vendor didn't meet the Academy's standards, they sent it back.

To increase transparency and implement the healthy behaviors promoted in the We Can! program, MARC Academy began "How to Have a Heart Healthy Kitchen" workshops. They taught lessons like how to read nutrition facts labels, how to best use your kitchen space, and how to read a recipe. MARC Academy's open-door policy provided parents with a comfortable setting in which they could ask questions and get involved. By making the sessions more conversational, MARC Academy was able to make help parents start to make healthy changes.

They also began a Healthy Celebrations Policy. Instead of serving candy, cookies, and cakes to celebrate children's birthdays, MARC Academy encourages healthier alternatives. Children now enjoy Parfait Parties where they are given bowls of low-fat yogurt and they can choose from a variety of healthy toppings such as fresh strawberries and blueberries, and Pizza Parties where students are given an English muffin and can make their own pizzas.

The South Bronx is a diverse community with a large Latino population, so MARC Academy offers dance classes that can help participants link a cultural tradition with a fun way to increase physical activity. Both parents and kids move more, and have a chance to spend time together.

As discussed above, MARC Academy made bold changes to their center's food options and implemented creative programming to encourage healthy lifestyles for their community members. See their tips below and think about how your community site could benefit from similar changes:

  • Get parents onboard. MARC Academy hosted a town hall-type meeting before they began making center-wide changes to educate parents and ask for their input. They also sent a copy of the new policies home and asked parents to sign them and be accountable for the changes. Involving parents can be a great way to also inspire change at home!
  • Involve We Can! materials in your programming. MARC Academy promoted healthy food choices, increasing physical activity, and reducing screen time by putting up We Can! posters and handing out We Can! tip sheets to parents. The materials make it easy to communicate core ideas.
  • Understand your community. MARC Academy staff knew that cultural heritage was important to its community members so the staff made an effort to incorporate traditions and cultural elements into their programming.

Last Updated: February 13, 2013