A fresh approach to teaching good eating habits


March 21, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IF YOU WANT to persuade 8- and 9-year olds to eat foods that are good for them, what can you do, short of taking out an ad on Nickelodeon?

You might follow the example of the county Health Department and take your message directly to the schools. The department's message to third-graders about eating right comes in the form of a food tasting the department calls "Fruity Tooty Veggie Weggie Try It Day."

Before the tastings began this school year, more than 2,600 county public school third-graders had participated during the past four years in classroom presentations on healthy eating and physical activity, which were sponsored by the Health Department and assisted by the school nurse program.

According to county Health Department statistics, more than half of all elementary pupils don't eat fruit every day, and one quarter of all "vegetables" eaten by children are french fries. County nutritionists were worried about the results of a survey they conducted last year of the dietary habits of adult county residents. That survey showed that 67 percent of men and 50 percent of women were overweight. Twenty-one percent were seriously overweight and 82 percent had high-fat diets.

Following good examples at home is one of the best ways to learn healthy eating habits. But because some adults seem to be in poor physical shape, the Health Department decided it should take the classroom presentations one step further.

Lottery drawings were conducted to choose which school would participate in the "Fruity Tooty" event. Among the lucky winners were Central County's Windsor Farm and Benfield elementary schools.

On Tuesday, parent volunteers and more than a dozen staff members from sponsoring groups, which included the county public schools' Division of Food and Nutrition Services and the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, arrived at Benfield. The Division of Food and Nutrition Service's mascot, Skippy the Crab, was there.

Nine activity stations were set up in the school cafeteria. Designed to appeal to third-graders, each station featured one healthy food, such as kiwis or Granny Smith apples, fresh zucchini dipped in ranch dressing, cooked sweet potatoes or baked beans. At some stations, pupils were invited to get physical with activities such as the veggie beanbag toss or dancing to Chubby Checker's version of "The Twist."

Benfield third-grade teachers Carol Callihan, Kate Hampson and Joyce Stafford ushered their pupils into the cafeteria, where balloons and brightly colored signs immediately attracted the children's attention - as if they weren't excited enough just to get out of class.

"This is better than recess," said one happy third-grader.

The children were given a booklet to record their impressions at each station. The booklet also has recipes to try at home. The pupils were delighted to receive a prize at each station, such as a "twisty" elastic bracelet at the Twist station.

After trying kiwi fruit, Jordan Nocar, Colleen Flannery and Leah Channas were asked by Elizabeth Hutchings of Cooperative Extension whether they thought they'd eat it again. Among the three girls, it was a tossup. One couldn't get enough. The others weren't sure.

"It's great to work with the different organizations to put this together," said Ann Heiser Buzzelli, a dietician from the Health Department. "We're all striving for the same goal, and it's lots of fun doing it for the kids."

The county Health Department's Youth Risk Reduction Program pays for the "Fruity Tooty" events. Information: 410-222-5900.

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