Through the American Heart Association’s Kids Cook with Heart program, Chef Bryce Fluellen has taught roughly 2,500 children the benefits of eating healthy.
By Megan Reed
The obesity epidemic has not only affected adults. American children have similar eating habits, and they also have similar issues with their weight, as one in three children and teenagers are either overweight or obese.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), since 1980, the childhood obesity rates have tripled. The rate of obese six to 11-year olds has gone from six percent to 17.5 percent. The rate for teens has gone from five percent to 20.5 percent. For children ages two to five years old, 8.9 percent of them are obese today.
“We’re seeing a lot of kids with type-2 diabetes, and diseases that you wouldn’t typically see in people until they were adults,” said Chef Bryce Fluellen, AHA’s instructor/educator for their Cook with Heart Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Santa Ana program. “We’re seeing those diseases in young people, so it’s critical that we change that tide and work with children in these formative years.”
It is feared that this current generation of children may be the first generation that will not be expected to outlive their parents. To help combat this issue, Fluellen is teaching elementary, middle, and high school children how to prepare their meals with healthy ingredients through AHA’s Kids Cook With Heart program.
“This program gets kids to understand how to cook food in a healthy way,” he said. “It’s also to get them to understand the correlation between eating fresh foods, fruits vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins, as that relates to heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. So they understand the importance of what they put in their bodies.”
Recently Fluellen finished a six-week program at Coliseum Street Elementary School, where he taught a weekly class through LA’s Best After School Enrichment program. During one class, he asked the children who have a family member that suffers from diabetes to raise their hand. The bulk of the class had their hand up.
“Unfortunately, 80-90 percent of the students in my classes have somebody in their family that has diabetes or heart disease,” he said. “I want them to understand that this is something that is impacting their family, and I want them to understand what these preventable diseases are, how they get it, how it functions, and how they can prevent it.”
According to Fluellen, 80 percent of heart disease and stroke can be prevented by making better food choices.
Fluellen starts off his class by talking about the science behind preventable diseases. When he taught the children at Coliseum Street Elementary School about diabetes, he spoke about how sugar elevates insulin, and how that over time, this can lead people to become insulin insensitive, which leads to diabetes.
After Fluellen’s brief lecture, he has the children prepare some of their favorite dishes by substituting unhealthy ingredients with healthy ones.
“Pizza is one of the most popular foods in the world,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever eliminate it. So I’m showing them that if they’re going to have pizza, there’s a healthier way to make it. You can add vegetables, you can put corn on it, you can make it with whole grain.”
Fluellen has also taught the children how to bring out the taste in healthy foods.
“Oftentimes people say that healthy food doesn’t taste good, but oftentimes it’s just the way that you prepare it,” he said. “When I grew up, I had an aunt who was a wonderful cook. I remember that I hated brussels sprouts, but she would boil them, and it really didn’t have a taste. But if you roast or sauté brussels sprouts, it brings out a nuttier and more robust flavor.”
Fluellen has seen positive results from this program.
“I’ve seen that when kids enjoy cooking, and have a hand in it, they really go back and implement it in their household,” he said. “People think that parents are the ones that have all the control (on food selection), but I’ve seen that kids can have a major influence in the household. The same way that they can influence their parents to go to McDonald’s is the same way that they can influence their parents to buy more fruits and vegetables.”
Over the last four years, through the AHA, Fluellen has worked with roughly 2,500 children at schools in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Orange County. The program has also partnered with the YMCA, and the Boys & Girls Club. He has also given demonstrations for community organizations, at churches, and at community events.
To inquire about booking Fluellen for speaking engagements or cooking demonstrations, contact KPF Consulting at 310-691-6058. Also, visit his website at www.chefbryce.com and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.
Contact the AHA, Los Angeles County Division at (213) 291-7000, visit their website at www.heart.org and follow them on Facebook.
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