Bad eating habits can usually be traced back to early childhood, and diets during the first few years of life can be critical for shaping how people eat for the rest of their lives.
Massapequa resident Laura Lipari’s diet was a lot like your average American’s; that is, until an injury curbed her ability to exercise and forced her to take a good, hard look at how she was eating and how it was affecting her day-to-day life. She ended up making such radical changes that she now teaches a series of healthy cooking classes at the Massapequa Public Library aimed at instilling the children of the community with the very same high standards when it comes to eating.
A graduate of Massapequa high school, Lipari finished schooling for her master’s degree in nutrition at Hunter College last June; she’s currently in the midst of a 10-month dietetic internship at the Stonybrook University Hospital, but previously, she had intended in going a completely different route with her education — math.
However, it was a long road laden with delicious, fatty foods on the way to her master’s in nutrition. For years her diet was far from exemplary, Lipari said, despite being an athlete in high school and college.
“When I went to Massapequa High School, I’d go out for lunch and probably have three slices of pizza, a Yoo-Hoo, and a chocolate bar or something, and I’d do that every day,” she said. “However, I also ran cross-country and track at the time, so that kept everything balanced. Freshman year in college, I continued eating that way, but I eventually got injured on the track and had to stop running, and I realized that diet was no longer sustainable.”
Lipari made changes to her eating habits, learning a variety of new, healthier recipes from watching, of all things, The Food Network. The improved nutrition followed hand-in-hand. She eventually gravitated towards a more plant-based diet and soon felt the positive effects it had upon her well-being.
In addition to sharing her healthy lifestyle with local children at the library, Lipari teaches regular cooking classes for the younger set, entitled “Cooking with Kids.”
At a recent class, Lipari walked her students through how to make fresh garlic hummus, a popular dish comprised of a dip made from mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.
“I went over the ingredients with the children, why some were beneficial, what nutrients you can find in them, and so on,” she said. “And we topped the hummus with baby carrots and parsley. Hummus is a popular dish these days, and I wanted the kids to see what goes into it.”
Victoria, 12, appeared to get quite a kick out of seeing the creation of hummus, step by step, and said she was looking forward to trying it out for herself.
“The class was a lot of fun…you can learn a lot from it,” she said. “I will make this hummus again…it’s something fun to do.”
Olivia, an 11-year-old self-professed chef, appeared to absorb the lessons being dished out that day. Until that evening, cooking to her mainly consisted of simple breakfast foods.
“Until now, I’ve only cooked things like pancakes, eggs and waffles,” she said. “Laura explained everything in a way that’s fun and easy to remember, and I can’t wait to try making it myself.”
With yet another successful cooking class under her belt, Lipari noted that the sooner in life you can get the message of making the right choices at the dinner table through to kids, the better it is for them in the long run.
“Children have to get exposed early to healthy eating habits…you can really train your taste buds from an early age,” she said. “For kids to be able to appreciate food and want to eat healthy, they need to develop a personal connection with food.”