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Lyndsey Gilpin/MEDILL

Fit Fast Food at the Iriving Park Y empowers kids to make optimal choices - from completing homework to eating healthy. 

Kids kick the fast food habit

by Lyndsey Gilpin
March 07, 2013


Lyndsey Gilpin/MEDILL

Fit Fast Food at the Irving Park YMCA offers homework coaching, exercise and nutrition lessons to young children five days a week.

Five days a week, up to two dozen kids commute to the Irving Park YMCA after school to learn how to live and eat for good health. The Fit Fast Food program allows them to exercise for an extra hour, finish homework and learn the basics of nutrition.

The purpose? Hopefully, when the kids are confronted with fatty, salty, sugary options at fast food restaurants and at home, they’ll choose a tasty alternative such as vegetable tacos, grilled chicken, or milk instead of soda.

Fit Fast Food, now in its fifth year, is free for children ages six through 12 at this Y location only. Lara Pacelt, community and sports director for the Irving Park YMCA, said she has seen several kids grow out of the program after reaching dramatic improvements in their exercise and eating habits. Through Fit Fast Food, the kids are getting consistent and varied exercise.

Families have told the coordinators their nutritional habits at home have changed for the better because of the things their children learn, Pacelt said.

“They do learn to learn to really read nutrition labels,” Pacelt said. “Are they going to look at every label? No. But knowledge is power and their grown-ups may start.”

The program is funded through the City of Chicago’s Family and Support Services and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development. Pacelt has applied for a grant renewal.

“In a city where they’re cutting funding right and left, we’ve managed to survive,” Pacelt said.