Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing

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Lunch Bunch program helps Maywood teens adopt a healthy diet

Lunch Bunch program helps Maywood teens adopt a healthy diet

Kelly Sierra, RD, LDN, coordinates the Lunch Bunch program at Proviso East High School.

By Megan McKinley

For a little over a decade, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing's graduate dietetic and undergraduate nursing students have been involved in health education at Proviso East High School (PEHS) in Maywood. What started out as a Niehoff outreach project 15 years ago is now a grant-subsidized Lunch Bunch program feeding lunch to almost 100 teenagers every week.

In District 209, which serves many low-income families, PEHS students are at a higher risk for obesity and have limited access to health care. To help with these struggles, the founders of the Lunch Bunch program began a school-based health center over a decade ago. The PEHS Based Health Center includes a full-time nurse practitioner, health care providers, and other health education programs.

Program director Joanne Kouba PhD, RD, LDN of the dietetic education programs said: "We don’t want to just talk about how healthy food is good for you, we want them to realize that it can taste good too." Kouba is working to expand the Lunch Bunch strategies to other schools through wellness committees, which provide students the opportunity to partner with Proviso Partners for Health, a community coalition partnered with Loyola MNSON, Stritch School of Medicine, and LUHS geared towards obesity prevention.

Each year, depending on their concentration, nursing and dietetic students are assigned to a clinical experience program, one of which is Lunch Bunch at PEHS. Throughout the internship, they complete nutrient analysis to ensure that the Lunch Bunch meals meet the standards of the USDA National School Lunch Program. Niehoff students come to PEHS three days a week serving between 70-100 high schoolers at the four lunch periods.

Getting the students onboard with the healthy eating program isn’t always easy.

"The students are living in an underserved, under the poverty line area,” said Kelly Sierra, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian who provides nutrition services and coordinates the Lunch Bunch program at PEHS. “Some of them are homeless. Convincing them to eat healthy is difficult."

Undergraduate nursing student preceptor Patty Kennelly, RN, MN, said, "We're reaching the community by consistent and repetitive education that has really made a difference in their lives." During a Lunch Bunch, Niehoff students discussed topics from nutrition to stress and relaxation. Students will often come up to tell Kennelly of their latest success—that they got a job or scholarship with the help of the Lunch Bunch program. "To know that you were influential in setting that up and encouraging them, that has been the most gratifying," said Kennelly.