HealthBarn USA: Eating Well and Having Fun

HealthBarn USA is a place for children to learn about nutritious and delicious foods and building a healthy lifestyle. It’s located in a converted stone house on 10 acres of land within Irene Habernickel Family Park in Ridgewood.

What It’s All About

The concept for the education center was born when founder Stacey Antine, MS, RDN, was working in a hospital completing her internship to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. During that time, she observed the treatment side of the obesity epidemic but felt a need for greater focus on educating children and their families on how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“Our mission is to empower children and families to lead strong energetic lives,” says Antine. “We educate families through our hands-on proprietary curricula that teaches them about where natural foods come from, how to cook with their harvest and why these foods are the best for their minds and bodies. This mission continues to thrive today at which time we can proudly say we have empowered over 60,000 children—and the grownups who love them—since 2005 and we’re still going strong!”

Programs at HealthBarn USA are designed for children and adults—with participants as young as three. Everyone from the picky eaters to the eager taste testers can find something that suits them at HealthBarn USA. The seasonal programs focus on providing kids with hands-on experiences and education, teaching kids about where food comes from and what foods are best for their growing minds and bodies. Children have the opportunity to experience growing fruits and vegetables in HealthBarn’s organic garden, learn how to cook in the teaching kitchens, and experience how nutritous foods make them feel healthy and strong.

Enthusiasm for Cooking

Although our food environment has not changed and is potentially more processed than ever, Antine has seen a positive change in kid’s attitudes towards foods.

“The biggest change I have experienced with children and food is boys and girls’ excitement to cook. I credit the TV cooking shows which many of our students love to watch for this. The challenge is that these TV shows and many cooking programs aren’t training these young chefs in a healthy way. Education is the way to a healthier future and planting the seeds of good nutrition is critical at a young age,” she says.

Nutrition: A Core Component

Nutrition guidelines have changed over the years, presenting an ongoing challenge about how to incorporate nutritious recipes into everyday life. HealthBarn USA has progressed to teach more advanced recipes, kitchen skills, and safety to instill healthy cooking habits into the students’ daily lives.

“The biggest change in our 13 years of teaching kids has been the cooking component,” says Antine. “We develop our recipes to meet nutrition guidelines and they are more sophisticated than the dips, smoothies, muffins we started out with. We published 100 kid-tested, family friendly recipes and included our core healthy-lifestyle lessons in Appetite for Life (HarperOne). We are also now teaching more advanced food safety and knife skills so that kids can progress to using real chef knives as opposed to our plastic Curious Chef knives for our youngest chefs.”

Chop to It

“We provide certificates for their accomplishment, so that parents can feel confident to allow them to chop at home—it’s amazing,” continues Antine. “If you want your kids and family to eat fresh, chopping is a must! Our organic gardening program has evolved more to skill-based learning, so that the children have the confidence and knowledge to grow their own food at home. I have definitely seen a growing movement in families installing gardens or at least growing veggies, fruits, herbs in pots on their decks—it’s exciting!”

HealthBarn USA is not only dedicated to kids but has created programs for adults to enjoy as well. Programs include nutrition workshops which are interactive culinary classes that focus on health topics such as cooking for heart health, using spices for low sodium diets, and how to take a healthy approach towards weight loss. The Culinary Gatherings classes are perfect for mom’s night out events or club get togethers. Participants choose a theme like “Asian Creations”or “Go Italian,” and the class is taught by a culinary instructor who also provides health tips. For the Chef Table Workshops, HealthBarn USA teams up with a professional chef to create delicious and healthy recipes. A portion of the proceeds from Chef Table Workshops is donated to Healing Meals,  a HealthBarn foundation dedicated to providing nutritious meals to sick children and their families.

A Thriving Community

“Parents share with me all the time that their kids are now eating peppers, carrots, spinach and kale straight from the garden and are choosing it at the market, too,” says Antine. ” I love receiving emails of photos and videos of our students cooking or baking at home from Appetite for Life recipes from parents—this is our real success!”

Party Time

That’s right—HealthBarnUSA also offers birthday parties! “I never thought our culinary birthday parties would be a hit, but they are,” says Antine. “Kids love making and eating the food with the garden-to-table pizza party and fudgy brownie bites —secret ingredient black beans—being the most popular. In our stressful world, completely plugged in to technology and where artificial foods are more abundant than ever, HealthBarn USA is a welcome, wholesome unplugged refuge for the whole family.”

HealthBarn USA
1057 Hillcrest Road
Ridgewood, NJ

Images courtesy of HealthBarn USA.

by Taylor Sumereau

Want to learn more? Joanna Gagis, of the Caucus Educational Corporation, a Jersey Bites partner, recently interviewed Antine as well. View their conversation, below.