Kids’ Healthy Eating Program
Written By Rona Sue London
It’s early morning at the Owings Mills JCC and Miss Chris is walking the halls of the preschool. It doesn’t take long for her to encounter a few little voices enthusiastically shouting out with pride, “I ate my apple this morning” and “Miss Chris, Miss Chris, I had green beans last night!”
The children’s excitement is palpable. It makes Chris Sigman, health science educator at the Owings Mills JCC, grin widely, high-fiving her 3- to 6-year-old students, knowing that she is making a difference.
Sigman’s goal is to prevent childhood obesity and her story is a personal one. Her children, now 26, 14 and 12, were in the 95th percentile for height and weight as preschoolers. Sigman, a nurse by training, and her husband, a doctor, knew the kids were solidly built, but didn’t realize that, in fact, they were considered obese by the standards set out by the American Academy of Pediatrics. She began educating herself and her family.
Two years ago, Sigman brought this passion to the JCC. As teachers began calling Sigman into their rooms to show her lunch boxes filled with desserts, juice boxes and thermoses holding four times more food than is appropriate for a preschooler, she realized she needed to take a comprehensive, family-friendly approach.
With a grant from the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Foundation, she started a program to teach children, parents and staff how to eat healthily. It was designed around The Food Plate, developed by First Lady Michelle Obama in conjunction with the USDA. It replaces the old food pyramid.
The Food Plate features four colored sections representing fruits, vegetables, grains and protein. Next to the plate is a smaller circle for dairy. It helps explain what one should eat at any given meal.
To encourage children to eat healthily, each preschooler creates a “Food Plate” placemat. They create meals — cutting up ingredients, assembling the recipes and then eating it all, in a room decorated with the week’s theme. For example, it may be Mexican burritos, Hawaiian salmon kabobs or Israeli hummus.
The children begin their food inquiries by using their senses to explore. They pick up their food, and on the count of three they lick the food. They discuss how it will rate on the crunch-o-meter when they taste it. Will it be crunchy and loud or mushy and soft? Then everyone tastes the new food together.
“Peer pressure is amazing. I can get children to eat anything. What they might not eat at home, they will at school because they will not manipulate a teacher into making them a second lunch like they may be able to with a parent.”
Janene Malamud, another of Sigman’s parent volunteers, has seen firsthand the results of these classroom lessons. Her son, Drew Schwartzman, 5, hated salmon.
“The thing that surprised me,” says Malamud, “was that several years ago Drew saw whole fish displayed in the seafood section at Wegmans. [He] asked, ‘Is this the fish that swim in the ocean? Is this the fish we eat? Is this the fish that grandma serves at Shabbat dinner?’”
Drew has not eaten fish since. In Miss Chris’ last class Drew tasted salmon, roasted tomatoes and pineapple kebabs during Hawaiian Day. He came home excited and told me that he is going to try the salmon that Grandma is serving tonight at Shabbat dinner!”
Shea Hiken, 6 says, “We learn everything. I would say my favorites are watermelon and cucumber.”
Sigman also teaches children to look at labels and find out how much sugar is in a product. They count out the tablespoons and place the sugar in a cup. She also does this with oil found in potato chips.
One morning Shea was looking at the instant breakfast drink box and wouldn’t have any because he noticed the label said that it contained 19 grams of sugar. “These lessons are being brought home,” says Shea’s mother, Rachel Klein.
No Surprises Here
Macaroni and cheese, pizza, cereal and chicken are preschool-age kids’ favorite foods.
Source: Researchers at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the Society for the Advancement of Education.
MISS CHRIS’ TOP 10 PICKY EATER TIPS
1. Ignore the child who refuses to try a new food, but praise the child who does try. Frequently remind the child that the food needs to go on their plate; they need to touch it and smell it, but you will never, ever make them eat it. Praise for even a touch, sniff or lick.
2. No negative words about food are allowed at the table. Never, ever use food as a bribe.
3. Remember that a preschooler’s portion should be one-half the size of an adult portion.
4. Toothpicks, chopsticks and skewers make eating an adventure.
5. Do not offer juice with meals because even 100 percent juices are filled with sugar and empty calories. Instead, offer milk or water.
6. Let children serve themselves.
7. Offer very small portions of new foods alongside a food you know that they like.
8. Do not overly restrict treat foods. This usually makes a child desire them even more. Try to reserve desserts only for special occasions.
9. Clean out the pantry of all unhealthy food, encouraging kids to make choices of only good foods. Hide the bad foods if you must and eat them out of sight.
10. Recognize that toddlers do go on food jags in which they eat only one food repeatedly for days on end. Picky eating is a stage of development. This is perfectly normal and healthy.
Southwest Pasta Salad
1/2 lb whole wheat pasta
1 can black beans
1 1/2 cups corn
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup diced green pepper
Handful of cilantro
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Mix all ingredients together except lime. Squeeze lime on top and mix.
Easy Vegetable Soup
Try this soup with chunky vegetables or pureed.
5 cups low-sodium
3 carrots, sliced
2 yellow squash, diced
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
3 small tomatoes, chopped
1 cup stringbeans, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni
Pepper to taste
1. Pour vegetable stock into a large pot and add all of the vegetables. Bring to a boil and reduce heat.
2. Cover pot and simmer 20 minutes. Add macaroni noodles for 10 minutes or until tender. Season with pepper as desired.