At 2 years old, Jake Langford ate like many kids these days — grilled cheese and hot dogs. Now 6, he likes eggplant, asparagus and yellow peppers. He loves salad and eats it every day. "It will make your body strong so you can run fast," said Jake, who plays baseball for the Dodgers at Wellswood and recently caught his first fly ball. Of course, Jake learned all this from his mother, Marisa Langford, who wants to spread the fever for healthy eating among children throughout Tampa.
Langford started a monthly event called "Playin' in the Park" in March with about $3,000 awarded from a national childhood obesity prevention program called We Can!
Parents have the biggest impact on children in this age group, according to the website for We Can! Getting active, limiting junk food and reducing time in front of the TV or computer can keep kids at a healthy weight.
Now, on the first Tuesday of every month, kids can eat healthy snacks, like apples and carrots, and engage in what Langford calls "free organic play" from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. The event drew more than 200 children last month, she said.
Langford brings Hula Hoops, jump ropes and rubber balls — yellow, red, orange and green, say Jake and his sister, Mia, 5.
And "thousands of bubbles," says Mia, who loves to spin a Hula Hoop. Her brother is much better with a jump rope.
Trainers from the Harbour Island Athletic Club lead kids in a different activity every month — karate, yoga, Zumba, boot camp, hip-hop and more — all while a band plays. Parents are expected to stay and use the event as a chance to spend time with their children.
Besides the athletic club, partners for the free program include the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
Langford, 32, scheduled Playin' in the Park to coincide with the same evening that the Glazer Children's Museum next door offers a discounted $2 rate for kids and their parents.
The event is one of the offerings under the umbrella of Fit Kids Playground, an organization that Langford founded in 2009. Langford has applied for nonprofit status and wants to reach out to children ages 3 to 13 and their families.
Events like Playin' in the Park show how groups can share We Can! resources with parents in a setting that encourages children to be active, spokeswoman Melinda Kelley said. "They also help families see that healthy behavior change can be fun as well."
In addition to Curtis Hixon, Langford has been spotted at events around town such as the Seminole Heights Morning Market and recently the Cigar City Brewery Criterium event downtown. She brings along Hula Hoops and other toys for kids.
She vowed to keep her three children, Mia, Jake and 18-month-old Shelby, healthy after Jake was diagnosed with a hereditary condition that makes him more susceptible to complications from childhood ailments like colds. At home they "eat a rainbow" of colorful foods and even have a song about it. Mia recently added celery to her list of food likes. She eats it with French dressing, which her mother calls "Fancy Nancy" for a book series by that name.
Langford lives in Seminole Heights with her husband, Chance, who owns Langford Construction. The stay-at-home mom is a park connoisseur, she said, which is why she started the event. She knows parents are busy, but said something must be done to fight childhood obesity.
It's a matter of balance, Langford said.
It's all right to splurge on an ice cream sandwich occasionally, Jake said. "Or you might have frozen yogurt instead of ice cream."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.