Set Fire to the Flame

Posted 07/03/2013 | By HealthCorps

Tenaj Ferguson, who served as a HealthCorps Coordinator from 2011 to 2013, is a health enthusiast that is passionate about sparking the interest of young people, particularly regarding nutrition, fitness and mentoring.

She has worked for Camp Pennbrook, a weight loss camp for girls in New Jersey, for three years as a fitness specialist and has helped create a partnership between the camp and HealthCorps University, the newest initiative for our nonprofit. This summer, Tenaj is serving as the Camp Pennbrook HealthCorps Coordinator, implementing a specialized curriculum for females. She will be blogging each week on her unique journey this summer.

After her summer position at the camp, Tenaj is headed to University of Maryland, College Park to further pursue her passion of nutrition and business entrepreneurship. This is her first post. Enjoy!

During the first week at camp, I helped ignite a passion for health, in addition to feeding a fire to learn what is healthier.

It’s safe to say that the ladies at Camp Pennbrook and I are in for a truly transformative summer. We started strong with a lesson on decoding the nutrition label. The questions and insights that these ladies have are awesome and I’m encouraged by how curious and rightly concerned young people are about the state of their plates and the contents of their food cabinets.

I was surprised to get questions about high fructose corn syrup in so many products and I could relate to their desire for food to be less complicated than it is today with so many unrecognizable ingredients in food.

I sense a hunger in the campers to learn about nutrition and I’m so happy that I can represent HealthCorps University here at Camp Pennbrook to fill the nutrition education void and to answer their burning questions.

The highlight of the week was definitely setting a hot Cheetos on fire in class as we explored tips to make choosing healthier foods easier. One of the tips was to be aware of unhealthy fats; the Cheetos demo was alarming as the unhealthy fat dripped from the literally flaming hot Cheeto chip. Note: Please don’t do this at home!

My campers swore to never think of the regular hot Cheetos the same way again. Other tips that we discussed included choosing a variety of foods from different food groups and also foods of different colors and flavors to keep the eating experience fun and fresh. We explored other tips such as choosing whole grain and fiber whenever possible and limiting salt and sugar intake.

After understanding how to decode the nutrition label, the campers got lots of practice testing out their critical consumer skills. The ladies assessed an array of popular foods such as Oreo’s, granola bars, yogurt, pop tarts and fruits. They are officially critical consumers and they’ve cracked the basic nutrition code! I smile when I see campers checking out the labels of foods they eat often and for new foods. My challenge to the campers was to not assume they knew what is in their foods until they took a look at it as a critical consumer.

Since we agreed that we never buy shoes without checking the size we all agreed that it made sense to know what we put in our bodies since our health is more important. We agreed to become more aware about what we eat and I know this is a huge step in getting better at choosing healthy options. When we know better, we’re better equipped to do better!

We’re looking forward to looking deeper into nutrition labels and applying the nutrition label decoding skills to planning plan our plate. In our next class, the ladies and I will explore food groups, portion size and eating balanced meals to best fuel our body!

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