UC’s nutrition education programs promote better eating habits among children.
A monster is helping elementary school kids overcome one of their perennial fears: eating their vegetables.
University of California Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Marc Sanchez brings the fearsome beast with him on school visits to classrooms in Merced and Stanislaus counties.
“Let me introduce to you the Green Monster,” Sanchez says to a classroom of second-graders at Yamato Colony Elementary School in Livingston. “Is anybody scared?”
“Noooo,” the kids roar in defiance of the beast.
Sanchez borrows from TV’s “Fear Factor” challenges and uses his youthful energy to entice the kids to conquer the Green Monster — a spinach smoothie made tasty with bananas, grapes and pineapples — and embrace a healthy drink made with foods they normally dread.
The school visits are just one of the ways UC researchers, educators and cooperative extension representatives across the state are encouraging children and their families to eat healthier. They also are introducing them to fresh produce, doing cooking demonstrations and helping school districts prepare healthier meals.
About 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the last 30 years, obesity rates have more than doubled for children ages 6 to 11 and tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19. It’s an ominous statistic that could be improved if children ate more fruits and veggies.
UC’s nutrition education programs try to promote better eating habits by connecting schools to local farms and farmers. Known as farm-to-school programs, students learn about where their food comes from and how it’s grown — and in the process, learn to eat a balanced diet. Often, the children then become the conduit that brings healthier eating to the whole family.
“UC is on the forefront of these programs,” said Theresa Spezzano, UC Cooperative Extension director for Stanislaus and Merced counties and a nutrition, family and consumer science adviser. “The majority of the work is in some sort of school-based program.”
Nutrition education from UC reaches children, families and classrooms in nearly every part of the state.
Cooperative Extension, part of UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, runs two federal programs for low-income families in California — the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. Together they reach more than 180,000 people.