As part of our month-long Fit Kids February initiative, we are spotlighting New Yorkers who are helping kids stay fit. In order to produce healthy results, this week's honoree is growing young students' knowledge about the greener options in their neighborhoods. NY1’s John Schiumo filed the following report.
Chef Natasha Decena could be cooking for a high-end establishment. Instead, she's bringing fine dining to kids in a New York City Housing Authority community center.
“I’ve had a really wonderful experience working in restaurants, but I thought it was important to really kind of just get back to a hands-on learning environment. And it's more fulfilling that I share the knowledge that I have about healthful eating," Decena said.
So, Decena is presenting healthier vegetarian options to young New Yorkers. The Bronx native shares her passion for cooking through the Sylvia Center, a nonprofit that teaches kids in low-income neighborhoods smarter eating habits.
"What I really love about cooking is starting from scratch, really starting from the beginning, making a dish, and then just kind of having that final product be so rewarding and be nourishing for our bodies," Decena said. "These students don’t have the opportunity to really have a hands-on approach with cooking and with creating healthy meals."
By providing that opportunity every week, Decena hopes to empower students and their families to make independent and educated choices about what they eat.
“So with kids, you know, they’re always very picky eaters, but with Natasha, they go through the process and they see how the food is being made, so it kind of makes them excited and they want to try to food," said Deliana Gomez, program coordinator at East Side House community center. "And now, the parents are starting to see and starting to make wiser choices, because they see now that the kids are invested, that the kids want to eat good."
“My favorite part is to is to spend time with my friends and to make good food together,” said participant Latoya Burton.
Since 2012, Decena has inspired dozens of children to be more adventurous with food and new experiences.
"Them starting to have a bigger palate for different foods helps them to explore different things, in helping them to understand that sometimes, you have to try new things," said Althea Stevens, administrative director of community-based programs at East Side House Community Center. "It's about discovering yourself and not being afraid to take on new challenges."
So, for bringing fresh tastes and healthful lessons to all her students, Natasha Decena is the latest New Yorker of the Week.