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Stephanie Joseph is a Peer Leader with the Healthy Kids Community Challenge Danforth-East York, and has lived in Flemingdon Park for over twenty years. Raising two young girls in the community, access to nutritious, healthy foods is important to Stephanie.

In the Flemingdon & Thorncliffe communities, many families live in high-rise buildings and lack easy opportunities for recreation. In recent years, cases of food insecurity have been increasing in these neighbourhoods according to the Needs Assessment & Asset Mapping of Danforth-East York.

To help improve knowledge about healthy eating and develop food skills for families, Stephanie began running a community kitchen program, focused on kids ages 7-12. Stephanie focuses on kids because she believes it’s important for them to have the skills to prepare a meal for themselves if their parents are away or at work. It’s also a great opportunity to spend time as a family and contribute during meal times.

Stephanie empowers kids to take the lead and choose the types of food they wish to cook. In the community kitchens, they’ve prepared a wide array of food, including chili, hamburgers, fruit salads and pizza, all with a healthy twist. By giving kids choice, Stephanie finds that they are more likely to try new foods. She encourages them to integrate a new fruit or veggie into their diet every week to get a feel for what they like. The community kitchen also contributes to food sustainability, providing a healthy meal once a week for kids who attend the program. Stephanie has completed two full sessions of the program, and is preparing for a third session this summer.

Stephanie also has an active interest in community gardens and thinks it can help people connect with other programs and supports in their community. Gardens provide a valuable opportunity for kids to learn about where their food comes from, which helps them make healthier choices. Stephanie brings her kids to her dad’s garden, and they were really excited about how many fresh tomatoes they got out of a few plants they purchased at a local garage sale. By actively being involved in the garden, her kids were open to trying all kinds of new foods, like sugar snap peas.

Stephanie first heard about the Healthy Kids Community Challenge through a friend, and after looking at the job posting realized that she was already working on a lot of the same initiatives. Since becoming a Peer Leader, Stephanie is surprised to see how many people are shocked by how much sugar is in their drinks! At the Healthy Kids event station, there are cardboard cut outs of soft drinks, juice and energy drinks with the sugar counts illustrated – these help put the sugar into perspective in a tangible way, and Stephanie has enjoyed talking with kids about sugar-sweetened beverages.

With her breadth of experience and leadership in the Flemingdon Park community, we are so excited to have Stephanie as part of the HKCC Danforth-East York team! We’d like to extend a huge thank you and commend her for her efforts in being a strong champion for healthy foods!

This post was originally published on Danforth-East York here