This story first appeared on TAPinto Springfield.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since the 1970s. One Springfield Girl Scout is looking to make a change to that statistic by encouraging the next generation to eat healthier in a simple and fun way.

“I just realized childhood obesity is a growing American epidemic, and unhealthy food is growing in popularity because it’s convenient,” Samantha Knee said. “And I think kids are most impressionable at a young age, and it’s good to instill these habits into them now, so they can lead healthy lifestyles.”

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For Knee, a senior at the Academy of Allied Health Sciences, that idea led to her Girl Scout Gold Award project, a requirement to reach the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. In a series of cooking and healthy lifestyle classes, she aimed to educate younger children about how to live a healthy life, in and out of the kitchen.

The first step in the process was creating a website filled with healthy alternatives to popular sugary food. Instead of having fried foods, she created recipes, tips and suggestions.

“So instead of having fried chicken or anything like that, I would make baked chicken nuggets and show them it could taste just as good,” Knee said. “And if I approached it like that, I thought kids would be more inclined to try some of their favorite foods, just with a healthy twist.”

“I think the kids were really excited when they were in the kitchen and actually having hands-on experience,” she added. Knee also noted that giving them the chance of making the food itself was a great way to get the participants excited to try new recipes, even after the event was done.

Diane Servello, Knee's project coach for the gold award, said that from the first step of the project, Knee had everything planned out.

“When we started out ... I kept asking her, ‘Do you need help?’” Servello said. “She had it all controlled and when I finally saw everything, it was super-impressive to see that she had pulled all the recipes together, the whole website together .. .I was really impressed that she did all the research that she needed to do.”

Servello also said that Knee’s program showed participants just how easy it is to substitute healthy food.

Servello’s daughter Lianna was one of those participants. Summing up what she learned, the younger Servello said that she was going to cook some of the recipes for herself and her family.

“I think it’s going to be really helpful, and I can definitely use it,” she said.

For more information about Knee's project, go online to her website at, or check out her project's YouTube channel here.

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