Food Innovation Center

Collaborating for a healthier, hunger-free world.

Gunther Improves Children's Nutrition One Simple Supper at a Time

Coming from a long family history of giving back, Food Innovation Center member Carolyn Gunther feels right at home directing the second year pilot test of her successful Simple Suppers (a project which benefits from FIC funding) at Ohio State University's Schoenbaum Family Center.

Tackling the problem of childhood obesity, the aim of Simple Suppers is to improve the food choices and eating behaviors of preschoolers and to prevent inappropriate weight gain by intervening early in the child's life and engaging parents. In order to achieve this, Simple Suppers engages the whole family unit in nutrition education and meal preparation during dinner hour. Each program lasts 90 minutes once a month during the school year. Families learn about proper nutrition and ways to prepare meals that are healthy, easy, affordable, and appealing to dinner by learning age appropriate food and meal preparation skills, such as tearing lettuce with their fingers, cutting cheese with a dull knife, and setting or clearing the table.

The program is based in part on the idea that parent practices of healthy eating will result in higher diet quality for their children. Gunther stressed the importance of reaching children at an early age, stating that a child's preschool years are a critical window (the time when children move from a milk-based diet to adopting eating behaviors of the family), since establishing healthy eating during this time persists as the child continues to grow.

One of the best parts about Simple Suppers for Gunther is seeing families from different economic and racial backgrounds interact together effortlessly.

"Simple Suppers is one of the few ongoing nutritional programs at the [family] center that mixes both low and high income groups," Gunther says. "It's wonderful to see people from diverse backgrounds helping one another and finding social support."

When children are engaged in the food preparation and cooking process, they are more likely to overcome the common fear of trying new foods. In fact, Gunther shared that her own daughter was reluctant to eat cheese, but tried it for the first time during a Simple Suppers lessons where she prepared a cheese and cracker appetizer. 

Support from the Food Innovation Center Seed Grant program has allowed Gunther and her team of collaborators to establish the Simple Suppers program's feasibility and potential efficacy of program participation, creating positive changes in diet and weight. Gunther has submitted additional grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health to increase the frequency of program lessons and demonstrate efficacy through randomized controlled trials.

In the future, Gunther is eager to see more interaction between the Food Innovation Center and the International Poverty Solutions Collaborative (IPSC). Increasing participation from the Weinland community is high on Gunther's research agenda. She recently initiated collaboration with IPSC center members Pat Gabbe and Thelma Patrick with Weinland's Moms-2-Be program, developing a seamless tie between programs to create a steady pipeline of participants. 

To learn more about the Simple Suppers Program, watch this video.

Article Written By Chau-Sa Dang