HealthBarn USA

Try It...You'll Like It!

With a background in public relations within the food industry, Stacey Antine, MS, RDN, had a professional career promoting the health benefits of mainstream consumer foods.

Then, one day while working on her Master’s degree at NYU, she came across some startling data on obesity in children. “There was a quote presented in my class stating that this is the first generation of children who will not outlive their parents based on lifestyle,” says Stacey. It struck her that perhaps going back to corporate life was no longer the right move, and HealthBarn USA sprung to life.

“My mission is to use education to empower kids and adults on how to live a healthy lifestyle. I wanted to create an experience for kids to grow their own food and learn to love foods straight from the garden. I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to cook garden-fresh produce and understand why it is so nutritious.”

HealthBarn USA is an educational program that teaches nutrition, cooking, and gardening in a farm-to-table model. The staff is comprised of dietitians and other health professionals who are a significant part of the team and who appreciate the importance of nutritional education for kids.

The Seedling class at HealthBarn USA focuses on kids aged 3-5; an age at which children tend to be picky eaters. “We let the kids try a seasonal fruit or vegetable. If they at least try it, they get a sticker. Then, they can say whether they liked it, felt so-so about it, or didn’t care for it.” The HealthBarn team follows up tastings with extra activities such as planting seeds of that particular fruit or vegetable, harvesting it, or making a special recipe using it as one of the ingredients. “You can change the behavior over time with the parents’ support, but it’s even better if another source gets them to try it. The empowerment of allowing a child to like or dislike the food is key. The important thing is that they just try it.”

The program is centered on teaching kids how to make delicious foods with healthy ingredients. Students learn to incorporate the garden’s produce into recipes for muffins, stir-fry dishes, and soups. “We may make a granola bar with sunflower seeds and then plant sunflower seeds as an activity. Kids make carrot cake muffins and cookies with chickpeas,” says Stacey. “If they don’t care for tomato sauce on their pasta, we make basil pesto with basil harvested from the garden. It’s a much healthier option than butter!”

The HealthBarn’s after-school enrichment programs provide an opportunity for students and staff to eat dinner together and enjoy some fun conversation. “The parents are always surprised when they find out what the kids ate,” says Stacey.

Summer camp for kids aged 5-12 started July 6 and will run through September 6. Due to COVID, camp numbers were scaled down and all programs are moved outdoors, however, there is indoor space available in case of inclement weather. Since the entire staff is made up of health professionals, safety is of top priority, and they have always followed high standards of hygiene.

“Social distancing is a health behavior that we always teach. Food safety and hand washing is also a priority, especially in our current environment,” says Stacey. “Children with food allergies are welcome. That child should feel safe here because our staff knows how to handle food sensitivities and allergies.”

Camp days include arts and crafts, environmental activities like composting, nature hikes, and active play along with healthy cooking and eating. All meals are cooked by the group and made entirely from scratch.

This year, HealthBarn USA will also be offering virtual summer camps that are perfect for kids too young to manage social distancing and mask policies. Recent virtual classes have had participants from Massachusetts, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio as well as New Jersey. Many times, children introduce their pets on the call--who love the leftovers, by the way! (Check out our website to see a video).

“One of the few benefits we have seen during quarantine is that families now have the time to sit down and enjoy a nutritious meal together,” says Stacey. “Hopefully, we are all developing healthier eating habits. With coronavirus, everyone hit the pause button, and we’ve realized that healthy behaviors are more important than ever. During COVID, vulnerable populations had lost their lives; some due to compromised immune systems. Their bodies couldn’t fight back. I feel even more passionate about this than ever before. Good nutrition is so important for our children. It’s a bigger mission now,” says Stacey.

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