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Project wants to make eating healthy fun
[September 12, 2012]

Project wants to make eating healthy fun

Sep 12, 2012 (The Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When 13,000 students at elementary schools throughout the Yuma area sat down to lunch Wednesday, it wasn't served on any ol' ordinary plate.

The plate they received was covered with fun characters, catchy slogans like "veggies rule" and "pick me," and an invitation to play with their food. And the plate was divided into colorful quarters identified as Veggie Village, Fruit Farm, Protein Plaza and Grain Gallery, with a square in the middle for Dairy Depot.

Bright red apples as the crop of the week were the star of the fruit and salad bar.

It's all part of a new effort launched Wednesday in cafeterias for 19 schools in Yuma Elementary School District 1 and Crane Elementary School District to encourage students to eat a healthier diet.

Kristan Sheppeard and Susan Sternitzke know firsthand that putting broccoli on a child's plate with a command to eat it isn't a very effective strategy to increase vegetable consumption.

Alarmed by the nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity and the health problems it causes, the two put on their collective mom/teacher/marketer hats as owners of Limelight Creative Group to come up with a better way to get kids to eat more healthy foods.

Where better to do that than in the nation's winter vegetable capital, where farmers grow lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, melons, citrus, dates and other healthy fruits and vegetables.

And it ties right in with new nutrition standards for cafeteria meals implemented this school year as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was championed by first lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let's Move! campaign.

Major improvements are being made across the country to transform school food and to help combat child hunger and obesity and to improve the health and nutrition of the nation's children.

Jane Johnson, nutrition director for Crane, said school cafeterias have been serving more fruits and vegetables for years, but the new push is for fresh produce to take over half the children's plates -- and not end up in the trash.

"We're encouraging the kids to eat a nice, colorful assortment every day," said Johnson, a team member for POWer PLAY'te, the new Yuma project to improve childhood nutrition.

Sheppeard, a former first-grade teacher, likened it to teaching young children to read. They don't learn to read just by putting a book in front of them, but use videos and songs and other fun stuff to teach them, and pretty soon the children are reading.

The POWer PLAY'te project uses the same kid-friendly concept, encouraging children to make nutritious choices through associating fresh produce with playtime. Each Wednesday, lunch will be served on the POWer PLAY'te plates, and one fruit or vegetable will be the crop of the week featured with the meal and coordinated classroom materials. Other components are reward stickers and animated educational videos.

And at Gary Knox Elementary School, a community garden funded by Western Growers will educate students about where their food comes from.

Vic Smith, a local produce grower and agribusinessman, believes so firmly in POWer PLAY'te that he is funding the entire Yuma project.

"I believe so much in what we do as growers and the value of what we produce. But there's the continuous challenge on how to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables." As a board member of Yuma Regional Medical Center, Smith is well aware of the health crisis linked to poor nutrition.

"I want the solution to the national health problem to come from Yuma." For more information about the Yuma project, visit More information about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's push for healthier school food is at

___ (c)2012 The Sun (Yuma, Ariz.) Visit The Sun (Yuma, Ariz.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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