Traveling chef teaches children the importance of good nutrition

By KELLY ADAMS, The News-Review

WINCHESTER—Chef Tom Ohling is proof that mom wasn't always right when she told you not to play with your food.

Speaking at Winchester Elementary School last week, he asked a group of second- and third-grade students how many of them had been told not to play with their food.

A sea of hands flew into the air.

“Everybody in the whole world has been told that," Ohling said exuberantly. ''But I played a trick on my mom. I get paid to play with my food."

He travels throughout Oregon as the "Nutrition Magician" teaching schoolchildren about the importance of good nutrition and how to make eating with your family fun.

Ohling has been in the food service industry for 35 years, doing everything from washing dishes to owning his own business. Frequent requests schools for cooking and nutrition demonstntions led Ohling to develop a formal educational program. He now tours around the state.

In his white chef's shirt and pants festooned with a rainbow of chili peppers. Ohling is dovnright evangelical as he tells students about the importance of eating meals balanced within the food pyramid.

The pyramid is a guideline for healthy eating developed several years ago to replace the four food groups model.

“How many of you want your bodies to be as big and strong as possible?" he asked the students.

Every hand went into the air.

"You start by making healthy choices," he said.

Ohling said a diet isn't something you go on temporarily to lose weight.

“A diet is nothing more than what you eat every day,” he said.

The foundation of the pyramid is grains. To get enough grains, Ohling said, you need to incorporate them into every meal.

"Why, it doesn't take much brains at all to eat lots of grains," he said. Ohling went on to explain that pasta counts as a grains and there are a lot of ways to prepare it. He said there's spaghetti, rigatoni, and lasagna for example.

"There's oodles of noodles," Ohling said.

The next level is fruits and vegetables. He said the best way to remember is keeping in mind "high five for fruits and vegetables.'

Just like an athlete who has crossed the finish line the fastest or slam-dunked the basketball, eating enough fruits and vegetables makes children champions.

"You're winning for your body and winning for your brain," Ohling said.

The Nutrition Magician also encouraged the students to eat meals with their families as often as possible. He said studies have shown young people who eat with their families have higher test scores and better academic performance throughout their lifetimes.

He said despite his belief in eating healthful foods. it is OK to have junk food sometime.

“I like M &Ms.” Ohling said. While havhg an occasional snack of chocolate is alright, eathng a whole meal of M&Ms would make a person sick.

“That would he a bad diet.” he said. “There no such thing as a bad food.”

There are bad choices, however, and Ohling said children have the choice every day to eat better to feel better and do better in school.

It goes beyond good grades.

“You are choosing the kind of person you want to become,” he said.

Ohling then led the students through the creation of their own food sculptures using oranges. With a few simple cuts and rearranging of the pieces of the oranges, the students made their own parrots to symbolize the different levels of a food pyramid.

At the end, he showed them how to make a nest out of wax paper to keep the juice from spilling so they could take their birds home.

Ohling reminded the students that while playing with their food is a good path to good nutrition, the most important lesson is to clean up.

"It's OK to have fun with your food but it's not OK to make a mess.'' he said.

Second-grade student Amber Allahan was impressed with the presentation.

"It was great," she said. "I learned that you can play with your food," which is something her mother never allowed.

"Yeah and I'm going to tell her about this."


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Loved by audiences

“Thanks so much for being a speaker at conference. I learned more from your class than all of the rest. ”

— Wilma Hyde, OSFSA Conference

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Honored for commitment to quality education

American Culinary Federation President's Citation to Tom Ohling for education

from The American Culinary Federation

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“Your professionalism, high energy, preparedness and content knowledge made it easy for the group to relate their experiences to your information and motivate change.”

– Scott A. Milam Manager, Clark County District NW Natural

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A part of your team

ACF Good Guy honor to Tom Ohling nutrition educator

The ACF Chef & The Child Foundation Good Guy Award

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Recognized in the community

Firestone 100 national honor to Tom Ohling for service to others

Firestone 100 National Community Service Recognition

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Recognized for excellent childhood education

Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon honors Tom Ohling for childhood education programs

from Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon

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