(MCT) One hand-made envelope was filled with dried flower petals. In another was a hand-written poem: "Roses are red. Violets are blue. Sugar is bad and I'll miss you."

Thank you letters from students at Lagunitas Elementary School — one of several elementary schools in Monterey County, Calif., that has hosted a program called Kids Eat Right.

How do you teach kids to eat right? Expose them to fun activities that focus on healthful habits, says Uriel Mendoza, coordinator of the Kids Eat Right Program at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Begun as a pilot project two years ago, this program is now being offered to 4th grade children in all of Monterey County — thanks to generous grant funding.

Within five fast-paced sessions, students experience and practice simple yet profound health messages: Eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day. Drink beverages that contain no added sugar. Get at least 1 hour of physical activity each day.

These messages are part of a national initiative from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help curb childhood obesity in our country. "Kids Eat Right helps reinforce the healthful messages children get from home," says Mendoza. "And it advocates for kids from marginalized populations."

Indeed. There's even a website (www.kidseatright.org) that offers resources to help children and their families to "Shop Smart, Cook Healthy, and Eat Right."

And forgive the pun, but kids seem to be gobbling up what they learn. I mean, really. Who would guess a 4th grader would call a colorful broccoli salad "delicious"? Or a yogurt parfait "yummy"? Or say, "Thank you for telling us to do 60 minutes of exercise a day"?

"I am soooooo going to be healthy now!" one student gushed on a card embellished with colorful fruits and vegetables. "Thank you soooo much!"

Key to the success of this program? Basic health messages rolled into lively outdoor games and hands-on recipe preparation…and tasting.

"There is no reason kids cannot have fun while Kids Eat Right," Mendoza says with a smile. And he backs up his claim with one of his props — a giant parachute of many colors (to represent colorful fruits and vegetables) — that he uses in a myriad of activities.

Registered dietitians teach the nutrition portion of Kids Eat Right.

"My favorite food was the Batman Tortilla," (black beans on a corn tortilla topped with chopped tomatoes and low fat yogurt), writes one student.

"I loved that broccoli pasta (whole grain) stuff," says another.

And then there's the crayoned 4th grade drawing of a colorful unicorn with a bright red apple perched on his horn. Absolutely epic.


Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California. Email her at bquinn@chomp.org.


©2014 The Monterey County Herald

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