One of the first needs identified by Susanna when she began working in Cristo Rey was the chronic nutrition issues in the children. She began keeping detailed records of the height and weight of more than 100 children who came to her church’s lunch program in order to identify those who were at most risk for complications.
Through that work the most underweight children were identified and she began providing a milk supplement and vitamins to them. This has developed into a nutrition-focused program now handled through the clinic. On average there are 50-60 children each month receiving a fortified milk powder and multivitamins completely free of charge.
How does one encourage healthy eating where sodas and chips are cheaper and more readily available than purified water and fruit? We find it critically important to educate the parents of these children and keep them involved in their care to see any lasting change.
The parents or guardians of the children in this program are required to attend a monthly conference where they are given teaching on nutrition, health, counseling on parenting, emotional health, and much more. We seek to help and teach parents and guardians because they are the ones who will ultimately make the difference in the children’s health. The monthly conference is a fun time of interactive teaching, games, prizes (fresh fruits or milk), problem-solving, and more. In addition, upon admission to the program, each family is given a large package of healthy food staples as a boost for their food choices that month. The idea is to encourage using their few resources to prioritize healthy food over the sodas and chips that are too often the easiest meal choices.
The children are weighed and measured monthly to check that progress is being made toward the norm for their age. Our pediatrician evaluates each one for any underlying health issues that are contributing to their low weight or malnutrition. They are also seen initially by our psychologist to evaluate any emotional or social problems in the family that could be contributing to eating disorders. These two practitioners work together to do the monthly teaching times and follow each family. All of this is at no charge to the child’s family.
After a child reaches their goal weight and maintains it for several months, they are “graduated” out of the program with a celebration. It’s important to recognize the hard work that parents and guardians have contributed toward restoring the child to health and hopefully maintaining that pattern for future. We seek to encourage them with the certificate of recognition that they receive and the celebration of their achievement with the whole group of parents.