Museum trip gives lessons to live by

Area students learn fun, healthy habits at Port Discovery program

March 09, 2009|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,

The lesson plan went something like this: Soccer practice with players from Baltimore's Crystal Palace pro soccer team, agility training and exercises with the Baltimore Ravens' youth coach and some healthy cooking alongside celebrity chef George Stella.

Not your average day in the classroom. But for more than 200 kids from Baltimore-area schools the day of hands-on learning about health and fitness just may be a little more memorable.

The kids and others who happened upon Port Discovery children's museum on Saturday were taking part in the Junior League of Baltimore's Kids in the Kitchen initiative. The four-year-old program is aimed at tackling a growing youth obesity epidemic and related health issues, including type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A third of American kids are overweight or at risk, and obesity is the No. 1 cause of health problems in kids.

More than 220 similar programs have been held annually for the past four years around the country, Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom by the Junior League, a volunteer service organization.

In Baltimore, the kids made the rounds of several stations, including an Iron Kids Chef Challenge and kebab-making with one-time Food Network chef Stella, an international spokesman for the program. He said he was drawn to teach kids about good nutrition after he and his family were able to overcome their own weight problems by forgoing processed foods and engaging everyone in cooking with fresh ingredients.

"I wanted to spread the word about what I knew was working," said Stella, whose new book, Good Carb Family Cookbook, offers tips for cooking with kids.

For kebab-making, the kids got to choose from brightly colored fruit, yogurt and other toppings laid out along an assembly line in a third-floor kitchen area of Port Discovery. Teacher Regina Paige thought such a hands-on presentation might help some kids try new foods, and maybe they'd be more willing to eat them at home and school, too. The kids, she said, were clearly drawn to the colors and arts-and-crafts aspect.

"The more colors there are," Stella began, "the more healthy it is," finished some in the audience from Govans Elementary School.

Brandon Jones, an eighth-grader at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School near Pikesville, had two neatly assembled kebabs - two pieces of melon and two pieces of strawberries on each - next to a pile of pineapple on the side. He drizzled some yogurt and coconut on top and placed a sprig of mint on the side, which drew praise from Stella.

"I like to cook," Jones said, adding that his creativity was aided by his mother's advice: "Don't think about it, just do it."

Tom LaNeve, youth program coach for the Baltimore Ravens, had a line of kids jumping and clapping and running. He hopes kids who were motivated to join the program there would also continue to participate in activities at school and home. He hopes they'll take their parents with them.

Latira Gasque, a student at Afya Public Charter School in Northeast Baltimore, said football was OK, but she really likes hockey. That didn't stop her from expertly working the football agility course.

She said she exercises regularly. "I go to the YMCA," she said. "It's fun."

That's just the kind of thing Heidi Brown, Junior League of Baltimore president, and Angela Murphy, event organizer, were hoping to hear. They said they'd be back again next year with a program for more kids.

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