Learning to like their vegetables

Camp uses games to get kids excited about nutrition


A kid excited about cauliflower? Doesn't sound likely. But Samantha McIntire, 8, certainly was exuberant last week as she shouted out the name of the cruciferous veggie.

Samantha and about 20 other fellow day-campers at Davidsonville Elementary School were participating in "Food Fuels Fun," a program sponsored by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.

It's part of a larger "Learning to Live" program, which sends six peer educators around the county to teach children the importance of eating healthy, exercising and wearing sunscreen. They also warn of the dangers of smoking.

Learning to Live was started 14 years ago as a cancer-prevention initiative, said Wendy H. Mahan, program manager for youth risk reduction at the Department of Health.

"Now its focus is on healthy living for all county residents, to influence families and adults to make healthy choices," Mahan said.

The health department strives to get the information out as early as possible.

"If you repeat the message when they are little, they will continue with those healthy activities throughout their lives, we hope," she said.

Each summer, the county hires six local high school and college students to spread the message of good health at area summer camps. Mahan said children are more likely to listen to someone closer to their own age.

However, the real key to getting the healthy-lifestyle message across is to make it fun.

"We want to educate them about healthy eating and physical activity and the more they have fun, the more they will be apt to do it," said Ann Heiser Buzzelli, a nutritionist for the county Department of Health who developed the Food Fuels Fun program. "That's why we try to associate it with what they like to do versus what they have to do."

So on the day Armella Gilbert, a college junior from Annapolis, and Laura Rogalski, a senior at Annapolis Area Christian School, came to the camp at Davidsonville Elementary, the children jumped rope and played with a hula hoop - with varying degrees of success.

They also tossed around a giant beach ball. Each child had to name a fruit or vegetable matching one of the colors on the ball. Each time it was her turn, Samantha never hesitated. She explained later that her knowledge of vegetables comes from experience.

"I've tried a lot. They taste good, too!" she said.

Not every child was so excited.

Ryan Burke, 9, adamantly announced to Rogalski that he would never, ever, eat spinach.

"Just wait," Rogalski said. "One day, when you're older you'll have spinach on your pizza, and you'll love it."

His face scrunched up at the thought of the idea.

During another game in which the children were asked to match pictures of fruit, meat, milk and other edibles into the appropriate food groups, Gilbert asked the children for another name for the group that contains meat and beans.

"Pork and beans!" a girl answered.

Similar confusion ensued when Gilbert asked why eggs were in the protein group (the correct answer).

"Because eggs come from chickens, and chickens are meat ... " Samantha began, sounding unsure of her own response.

Gilbert set them straight, and by the end of the activity, the children had no problem listing the food groups by memory.

Aside from teaching the food groups and about the value of fruits and vegetables, the peer educators told the children that they need 60 minutes of exercise a day.

To remind them, they distributed stopwatches at the end of the 40-minute program.

"They always try to have some kind of giveaway," said Heiser Buzzelli. "Sometimes it's jump ropes, anything so that the message will stay with the students even longer."


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