Our Small Grants Winner: Jessica Trinh

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Earlier this year, we invited undergraduate students to submit ideas and develop programs that will promote healthy behaviors in children through behavioral science practices. The student with the most creative and well thought out project that incorporated evidence-based practices was selected to receive a $500 grant to pilot their idea.

We are excited to announce the winner of our 2017 Behavioral Science for Healthy Children Challenge: Jessica Trinh. Jessica has developed a program where children are encouraged to be active participants in the food choices they make.

Get to know Jessica and her winning program for yourself.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Jessica Trinh, and I was born and raised in Illinois. I am studying neuroscience at Yale College, and I hope to use my skills to pursue degrees in public health and medicine after completing my undergraduate degree. Besides working on my nutrition program, I also help at HAVEN Free Clinic as a nutrition education counselor and teach health education in New Haven middle schools.

What is your program about?

Research has indicated that student performance in schools are related to the foods they eat. And both schools and educators are taking note. The foods children consume impact growth and development, while increasing healthy habits may help decrease risk for various diseases, including childhood obesity. I hope my program will foster healthy habits that can be carried into adulthood.

Through cooking competitions, I want students to be master chefs in their home kitchens. My program combines nutrition education through demos and healthy recipe booklets I created with a cooking challenge to encourage hands-on learning at home. The goals of the program are to encourage collaboration between students and parents at home as students learn more about food preparation, and increase children's decision-making role in their meals.

How did you come up with your program?

Growing up, I never thought twice about the ingredients in fast food, nor did I think about the importance of eating a balanced diet. It wasn’t until I was older that I came to realize the importance of nutrition and became more conscious of the food choices I was making. From that moment, I became determined to address disparities in nutrition education.

In my last year of high school, my concerns about nutrition education manifested itself in my senior capstone project. I wanted to create an after school program with middle school students that allowed them to grow their own vegetables, so that they can use them as ingredients in dishes we made together as a group. Each week, I taught students about a new nutritious ingredient that they may have not known about before, and taught them how to cook a healthy dish using this ingredient.

At that time, I was awarded a local grant and was able to support my nutrition education program in my hometown of Rockford. From these early experiences, I became inspired in college to start another nutrition education initiative in New Haven, Connecticut.

What does this program mean to you?

My hope is that students become more active participants versus passive consumers. I believe that motivating students by involving them in food preparation and educating them about their food can improve nutrition outcomes. Rather than imposing restrictions on what students can or can’t eat, I want students to feel empowered to become key players in the decision-making process of choosing what they eat. Through my program, I would like to show them that they can be creative in making healthy substitutions in their meals without sacrificing flavor.

How are you implementing your nutrition program so far?

With the CHIL grant, I am working to set up a healthy cooking competition for students at East Rock Magnet Middle School, a New Haven public school. I designed and produced a booklet of healthy recipes and plan to distribute them to students. Using the recipe booklet, I challenge students to prepare and cook meals (with parent/guardian help when necessary). I hope this will encourage students to be more open to trying new, healthier foods. I also hope that it raises awareness in making healthier substitutions in their food choices.

If this program is successful, I hope to expand my program by working with other schools!

What do you do in your free time when you’re not out trying to save the world, one nutrition program at a time?

I enjoy spending time with friends, watching The Great British Baking Show, and exploring different libraries around campus. One of my greatest joys is being able to cook and bake for family and friends.

Congratulations, Jessica! We are so thrilled to see your program thrive!