Common Threads taught Lauryn how to cook. Now she’s teaching her family, too.

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13-year-old Lauryn Jones loves every part of cooking, from prep to pan to plate including the shopping. Her infectious energy is changing her family’s relationship with food.

Lauryn’s passion comes from one place: three years of participating in Common Threads’ program in Chicago, a unique initiative educating low-income kids in large urban centers like Chicago and New York about cooking, nutrition, and healthy living.

When parents are busy, budgets are tight, and access to quality healthy food is limited at best it can be hard for families to find time to cook meals together. This limited access to healthy food has made low-income families more likely to suffer from long- and short-term health issues, including low self-esteem, sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, and more.

Its a systemic problem that multiple generations of families have had to deal with and one that money-conscious school districts and local governments have been unable to address in a meaningful way for decades.

Common Threads is a response to these ongoing problems.

Every year, a new cohort of kids from third to eighth gradesjoins Common Threads for intensive programs including Small Bites, Cooking Skills & World Cuisine, and Family Cooking Classes. Its all designed to help kids think about food and nutrition and healthy living as an important part of life while theyre young enough for it to really make a difference.

For three of the last four years, Lauryn joined Common Threads. They taught her essential kitchen skills and cooking skills as well as life and leadership skills. She came out of their program eager to share her learnings with her family.

Her mom, Tanya Jones, is effusive about the program.

“They treated Lauryn well as a person, they taught her techniques, they gave her the science behind it,” she says. “Its a holistic approach, not just a one-time thing. They were so hands-on, and it exceeded my expectations.”

Lauryn agrees. Shes grateful to Common Threads for introducing her to new foods, including granola and kefir (a probiotic-fermented milk product that tastes like yogurt but is drinkable).

“Even my sister started drinking it!” she says proudly.

Common Threads empowers its kid participants to help their parents with the food choices they make for the family. For Lauryn and Tanya, that has meant looking at grocery shopping in a new way.

“Weve visited the Common Threads garden for carrots and kale; we buy kale chips,” says Tanya. “We buy whole wheat bread from the bakery now and cage-free brown eggs.”

The food they make as a family is different, too. Lauryn loves making whole wheat pancakes, salads, and smoothies. She has a special recipe for pasta with pesto and mascarpone cheese. When they cook, its a collective effort with lots of jokes and fun and filled with roles for everyone.

“My sister cant cook,” kids Lauryn. “So shes the sampler.”

The Jones family was transformed by what Lauryn learned in Common Threads. According to chef, mother, and registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth, thats not uncommon.

“Common Threads is a program that is near and dear to me and has changed so many kids’ lives,” she said. “They work with a great network of schools, and its wonderful to be working with people that just ‘get it’.”

Largeman-Roth is particularly enthusiastic about the importance of breakfast for kids something she’s proud of Quaker for championing in its partnership with Common Threads.

Ultimately, [breakfast] sets the stage for the whole day. It doesnt have to be the kind of breakfast you serve on the weekend, but it has to be healthy and something thats going to fuel a kid until lunch because once they get to school age, they may or may not get a snack time before lunch,” she said.

The research agrees a 2008 study of 379 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders found that regularly eating breakfast had a positive influence on attention/concentration, memory, and school achievement.

Quaker is helping Common Threads make breakfast an even bigger part of the program.

For the 2016-2017 school year, Quaker is partnering with Common Threads to fund its Family Cooking Classes and collaborate on expanding lessons to include breakfast so there’s nutrition education available for Common Threads students for all meals of the day.

One of the biggest reasons Tanya and Lauryn feel they succeeded in making positive changes to the way they buy and cook food is because the change was gradual.

“Change is not always hard, but you resist it. We are a busy family, moving really fast. Lauryn helped me feel comfortable with making changes by asking for one or two things different on every shopping list, or with family meals, and it made me much more open for sharing and changing,” said Tanya.

Is cooking together something your family does? Whether you’re all pros in the kitchen or ready to take your first culinary step together, here’s a great recipe for your family to try!

Blueberry Banana Overnight Oats With Coconut

Developed by Frances Largeman-Roth.

Makes 4 servings

  • 2 cups Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 14 cup chia seeds
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons honey, divided

1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 325 F. Spread coconut on a lined baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes until golden. Let cool.

2. Place the oats, chia seeds, and salt in a bowl. Mix well and transfer cup to each of 4 Mason jars or other lidded containers.

3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk the milk together with 1 tablespoon of the honey. Pour cup of the milk over the oats in each jar.

4. Distribute the banana slices into each of the 4 jars. Top with cup of blueberries and a tablespoon of the toasted coconut. Drizzle each jar with teaspoon of the remaining honey.

5. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir and enjoy!

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