Community Papers

Langley family’s eating habits are on the MEND

MEND lessons – such as healthy food choices — learned by James Michael Jack and his son Austin are also being shared with daughters Danielle, 9, and Nicole, 3. - submitted photo
MEND lessons – such as healthy food choices — learned by James Michael Jack and his son Austin are also being shared with daughters Danielle, 9, and Nicole, 3.
— image credit: submitted photo

When Austin Jack announces he is going to the kitchen for a snack, he comes back with a whole fresh pineapple and a banana.

Not the choice you would normally expect from a seven-year-old, but for the Murrayville boy, it is an informed decision he is proud to make.

“It’s a MEND-friendly food,” said Austin, who recently completed the MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition...Do it!) program with his father, James Michael Jack.

A free Township of Langley program that will run again in January, MEND helps families live healthier, fitter lives by enhancing children’s physical activity levels, nutrition, and self-esteem.

For Austin, an astute child who admits he had “gotten off the track of doing exercise,” it was a chance to “do lots of sports and play games” with other youngsters.

For his dad, it was a chance to get reacquainted with something he had started to take for granted: food and nutrition.

A certified chef de cuisine, James received a high-level education in the world of food. But several years ago he was injured and has since been unable to work.

“Your knowledge starts to slip,” he said, noting that many people simply don’t acquire basic skills — such as how to read a food’s nutritional information label or determine a serving size — in the first place.

“I thought I knew all there is to know about food, but to be retold the story was a unique experience and I really liked it. Learning about food again has been a great benefit.”

Held twice a week, MEND sessions are offered to parents with children aged seven to 13 who are above a healthy weight.

A member of the Township’s Recreation, Culture, and Parks Advisory Committee, James learned about the program during a presentation and felt the knowledge offered would benefit his entire family, including his wife Jacqui and their daughters Danielle, 9, and Nicole, 3.

He was intrigued by the format of the program, which saw parents and children interact together at a local school, where they learned and did what Austin called “paperwork.”

The youngsters were then taken into the gym to do fun activities with program staff.

“MEND offered structured, kid-focused education about health, nutrition, wellness, and activity,” James said. “There are a lot of areas of interest, and the kids got to know each other and looked forward to seeing each other.”

As for the adults, “for it to work, we had to be really honest and make our best efforts.”

For James, it was rewarding to see his son end each MEND class sweaty and rosy cheeked, then have him fall asleep within minutes of returning from grocery shopping sessions where the father and son team applied the lessons they had just learned.

“It’s pretty cool for a seven-year-old to be able to look at labels and ask questions, decide if a food is good or bad, if it should be put in the buggy or not,” James said.

“The MEND unfriendly foods are in the middle of the store,” said Austin, who learned to love different, healthier foods during a food tasting festival and set a goal to eat at least one type of fruit a day.

“The course created that trust and openness,” his father said. “It’s introducing children to everyday foods that they aren’t eating every day.”

James, who is involved with Meals on Wheels, said Langley is lucky to have a program like MEND and would love to see it taken further throughout the community.

“It’s all about prevention,” he said. “We would cut down on medical bills and get people healthy.”

“It really is exciting to have this program available for families,” said Township of Langley community recreation programmer Stephanie Eby. “It’s a great option for those who know they want to get healthy but don’t know where to start.”

The next MEND session runs Tuesday and Thursday evenings for nine weeks, starting Jan. 14, at Lynn Fripps Elementary School in Willoughby. Space is limited and a short screening session is conducted to determine if children fit the program’s criteria. To register, call 604-455-8821.

As well, a post-MEND program is available for families who want to keep the momentum going with MEND lessons, or for families who don’t qualify but are interested in MEND philosophies and want to find ways for their kids to be active through activities other than organized sports.

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