HomeHillsborough BeaconGiGi's Playhouse Hillsborough teaches healthy eating and exercise

GiGi’s Playhouse Hillsborough teaches healthy eating and exercise

Down syndrome does not stop a group of individuals in Hillsborough from creating and making healthy lifestyle choices at GiGi’s Playhouse Hillsborough.

Two times a month, GiGi’s Playhouse Hillsborough serves as the host to a Teaching, Exercise, Activity & Movement (TEAM) program that helps promote a healthy lifestyle, peer interaction and independence for adults 18 and older with down syndrome, according to officials.

The next TEA  program will be held on May 9 and at GiGi’s Playhouse Hillsborough, which is located at 450 Amwell Road in Hillsborough.

GiGi’s Playhouse mission is to change the way the world views down syndrome and to send a global message of acceptance for all, officials said.

“We started TEAM 3 ½ years ago. The program meets twice a month.,” said Liz Kepniss, GiGi’s Playhouse Manager and organizer of the program. “We exercise and we cook dinner. We focus on making the food we love in a healthier way.”

She said it is important that GiGi’s Playhouse has a program like this.

“Our founder has a saying like a diabetic needs insulin our guys need movement. Because individuals with down syndrome have low muscle tone, we are constantly trying to find ways to keep them moving,” Kepniss said. “I am trying to teach them ways to keep themselves healthier, because there are a lot of health issues with having down syndrome.”

She said the group will cook dinner together.

“In our latest’s program session, we created chicken and veggie meal. We do the meal in a flavorful way, so everyone can enjoy the food we prepare,” Kepniss said. “When they want burgers, we create them with a side salad. We will slice up potatoes and make them into oven baked potatoes, so they are not eating the grease. We just show them that they do not have to give up the food they love, but there is a better way of eating them.”

The program averages about 12 people a session and sometimes can reach as high as 20, according to officials.

“I at the end of each program say to them, ok guys what kind of food do you want us to make. What do you love? For example, next week we are making ratatouille because someone from the group suggested we make it,” Kepniss said. “This is their program and they have come to embrace that.”

Members of the group that attend each session are the one’s cleaning the food, cooking the food, and chopping all the ingredients. The group focuses also on the kitchen functioning skills for those who attend, according to officials.

“They learn how use a knife properly, and to cook with a stove and oven, with supervision of course. These are all the skills they need to be able to handle themselves in the kitchen,” she said. “I do not sit there and hold their hand as they cut with a knife. For the most part they can handle it.”

She said they also learn portion control.

“I am so proud of the group each session. I get so proud of them because I see them wanting to try and also branch out an eat new food. I love watching them help each other as well.”

For more information about the program, contact GiGi’s Playhouse by visiting gigisplayhouse.org or calling 908-829-5331.

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