A proper diet is key to lifelong health, so that’s why Medical City Children’s Hospital in 2010 created Kids Teaching Kids, a program that educates children about healthy snacking and eating habits.

Since then, school children from around the Dallas-Fort Worth area have teamed up with the hospital’s registered dietitians to positively change their eating behaviors. In fun ways that include creating kid-friendly recipes, area youth have learned about nutrition, food labels and how to prepare healthy snacks themselves.

As of the 2016-17 school year, Kids Teaching Kids will be in 15 North Texas school districts and will serve more than 260,000 elementary children. While Kids Teaching Kids primarily focuses on younger children, the program also has a cookbook writing and design competition for high-school students and a 21-day challenge, which encourages kids to try a new and healthy snack for 21 days straight. In the coming year, upwards of 70,000 youth are expected to participate in the 21-day challenge.

For its efforts, the hospital has received the Texas Hospital Association’s 2015 Excellence in Community Service Award and now hopes to expand the reach and scope of the program.

“HCA North Texas has embraced and supported this important program from the beginning,” says Ryan Eason, community relations manager. “We see Kids Teaching Kids as a chance to further our hospital’s mission to improve human lives, by improving the eating habits and overall health of the next generation.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 27 percent of daily calories are consumed as snacks, often with low nutritional value. About one- third of Texas children were overweight or obese in 2010.

“We thought this was something where we could take a leadership role by teaching children healthy eating habits on the front end, rather than treating the disease on the back end,” says Keith Zimmerman, FACHE, CEO of Medical City Children’s Hospital.

“It’s one thing to go out on the weekends and hand out oranges,” adds Eason, “But quite another to change eating habits by educating the entire community. What kids learn, they take home to the rest of the family, broadening the impact of Kids Teaching Kids. Our program is set up to be available to everyone through our website, kids-teaching-kids.com. We are very proud of the model and its message.”