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fresh fruits

 

Extension brings healthy food choices to children in Kansas City, Kan.

K-State Research and Extension

 

Imagine a 10-year old asking for fresh spinach or a 6-year-old passing up a carbonated beverage in favor of water.

Learning about food, nutrition, and health is helping youth in the Kansas City metropolitan area choose foods -- and activities -- that contribute to health, said Peggy Berrier Boyd, a K-State-Research and Extension agent. The educational afterschool program is part of Healthy Kids in KCK.

The effort is funded by a Sunflower Foundation grant to the Kansas City, Kan., Housing Authority, which contracts with K-State Research and Extension to plan and manage the nutrition and health education. Children attending the afterschool programs range in age from 3 to middle-teen years. To date, 399 children have benefitted. Fifty to 75 percent of the youth who attend return regularly, Boyd said. Watch a slide show about the project.

A 10-year-old girl, said: "I want to be healthy … it feels good."A young boy said he liked the healthy snacks, including a mini-pizza based on a rice cake with tomato-vegetable sauce and a sprinkling of low-fat cheese.

The safe environment is appealing to children, and a snack is a drawing card, said Bridgette Murphy, who travels to five metro area housing family developments three weeks a month to offer the afterschool programs. Murphy understands the importance of the messages she is sharing – she is a mother of five who has learned to manage type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise, rather than medication. In 2007 Murphy and her mother, Bernice, volunteered to lead a summer breakfast and lunch program for youth in their housing area. Then Murphy applied at the K-State Research and Extension office to teach nutrition and health to youth in the five family housing developments.

"Murphy has proved a good fit for the educational effort," said Nozella Brown, who teaches nutrition, health, food safety, cooking, and teaching skills each month to about 15 community educators, including Murphy.

As a perennial volunteer, Murphy has earned the trust -- and respect -- of her neighbors, Brown said. Her willingness to help youth in the community enhances her teaching ability, making her an agent of change. Murphy begins each session with health-promoting physical activity.

"When children get acquainted, it's easier for families to get to know each other, and that is building community among residents in the developments," said Murphy.

Learning about food safety, including washing hands before and after handling food, and helping with basic food preparation are part of the sessions.Encouraging children to try new foods hasn't been a problem, said Murphy, who typically hosts what she calls "a tasting." The party-like presentations are conducive to trying new foods.

Next steps include seeking funding to continue offering the nutrition education sessions, Boyd said. Adding cooking lessons for parents also is on the wish list.

"The kids loved squash, but the parents aren't familiar with choosing and using the low-cost seasonal vegetables," Murphy said.

Murphy's growing skills as a nutrition educator have enhanced her job skills and role in the community, Boyd said. She and her mother have been selected to attend a national leadership conference for family metropolitan housing units.