Share a bit about yourself.
My name is Dr. Nimali Fernando, and I am a pediatrician who has been practicing for about thirteen years. I also love running and cooking new recipes. My family, including my two sons, is very committed to our own family culture of wellness, and we prioritize time in the kitchen.
Why did you create The Doctor Yum Project?
Over the years that I have been a pediatrician, I have seen a staggering increase in diet-related illnesses. Of course, pediatric obesity and its associated diseases like diabetes and hypertension are the most obvious ones I see. However, I also noticed so many kids with normal weight who have symptoms like acid reflux, chronic constipation, attention and concentration issues that were directly related to the diet. I observed that families often could not clearly see the connection between those illnesses and their diet, and if they see it they not know exactly how to make a change. With the help of my husband, also a local physician, I created a recipe and parenting website called doctoryum.org to help families get back in the kitchen. The results were so encouraging that I thought we could do even more by teaching kids how to cook local seasonal produce with hands on classes. The Doctor Yum Project is now a 501c3 nonprofit with many nutrition and cooking programs.
How large is the organization?
We still are a fairly small organization with a dynamic Board of Directors and two wonderful employees. Jen Miller is a Holistic Health Coach who serves as our Cooking Programs Coordinator. She helps to develop and instruct our adult and kids cooking classes. Wendy Cannon is our Preschool Curriculum coordinator who helps to coordinate the sixteen area preschools that use Doctor Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure Curriculum.
Why is awareness for pediatric obesity important?
It’s more important than ever that parents realize that what they feed their children can affect them for a lifetime. So much of the risk for adult diseases like heart disease and cancer is established in childhood. The diet of all children, not just those who are overweight, can be improved so that kids have the best chance for a long and healthy life.
What has been the response of the community regarding the project?
We are lucky to live in such a supportive community with so many organizations that serve children. We have been able to partner with some of those organizations to bring nutrition education and cooking instruction to kids who are at risk for diet-related disease. Some of those organizations, like Stafford Junction, Young Lives, and Big Brother Big Sisters have reached out to us to help educate the kids that they serve. With some great community support we have been able to offer classes to those children. With another recent grant we are now able to offer some nutrition and cooking instruction for scouts as well.
How many families have you educated on nutrition and cooking?
Last year was our first year in our own instructional kitchen. We held over thirty classes on a variety of topics, like baby food preparation, lunch packing, canning and more. We have had many themed children’s classes, spring break and summer cooking camps. We also have exhibited and preformed demonstrations at numerous events around town this year, reaching hundreds of families. Although most of our reach is local, our website reaches thousands of users each month all over the world, too!
Tell us how volunteers can get involved.
We have a brand new volunteer portal, which makes it so easy for people to sign up online, update their profiles and availability, check schedules and schedule themselves for volunteer opportunities. We love student volunteers as well, and this is a great way for students to help in their community, earn volunteer hours and help to promote a culture of wellness. There are many chances for volunteers to help in our teaching kitchen in adult and children’s cooking classes. For those who enjoy the outdoors, this spring will be a perfect time to get involved in the planting and maintenance of our instructional garden. We welcome kids as helpers with their parents in our garden, too! Volunteers can learn more and sign up at www.doctoryum.org/volunteering/
How can local businesses get involved today?
We are always looking for help with our project from the local business community. We have a number of giving levels that can also give businesses and their employees access to our cooking and nutrition education programs. We have a variety of projects, so businesses can find ways to help us with those that suits their own needs and interests.
Where do you see the project in the next 5 years? 10 years?
We are very excited to have had the growth we have had in two short years as a nonprofit. We would like to be able to spread our message and to have a wider and more lasting impact on people in our community. Our message is really to spread a culture of wellness and impact the way that people live on a day-to-day basis. For children to learn to eat better, their families need to learn the skills to feed them, and their community needs to be one that supports wellness. That’s really our goal is to impact wellness on all of those levels by scaling up our efforts. With success in our own community we would love to take a similar approach in other communities in Virginia and beyond. An example of that would be our preschool nutrition curriculum, which we first implemented in eight schools, then branched into sixteen schools this year, including four of the local YMCA preschools. One of our goals would be to have our program in YMCAs across Virginia. Again, this kind of expansion will require much community support and volunteer involvement. We are hopeful that folks will continue to support our efforts to build a healthier Fredericksburg.