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Program prompts Hernando preschoolers to eat healthy

Isiaha Crawford serves himself pineapple tidbits, a favorite snack, at Brooksville Head Start. The kids are learning to eat healthy and practice their table manners.
Published Mar. 15, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — When asked his favorite snack, Isiaha Crawford pointed bright-eyed to a serving bowl bearing pineapple tidbits. The 3-year-old spooned onto his plate a generous portion, then passed the dish on.

Seated nearby, at Brooksville Head Start, Ta'Nia Strother, 4, near-whispered her favorite snack: "Chocolate bars."

"But not every day," nutritionist Martha Maner said with some dismay. "Only as a special treat, right?"

Ta'Nia nodded, adding without prompting that she likes oranges, too.

Other classmates touted such favorites as bananas, peaches, apples, green beans and broccoli. Honest.

The 94 preschoolers, ages 3 to 5, at Brooksville Head Start, another 146 at Spring Hill Head Start, plus a dozen at Butterfly Wings, a home-based day care in Spring Hill, have put into practice over the past year a quartet of lifestyle suggestions to earn 5210 Healthy Hernando Certification for their schools.

The numerals refer to the four daily goals: eat five fruits and vegetables, spend no more than two hours on recreational screen time, engage in one hour of physical activity and consume zero sugary drinks.

Based on a nationally recognized child obesity prevention program, 5210 Healthy Hernando was developed as a partnership of the Hernando County Health Department and Mid-Florida Community Services, which sponsors Head Start.

"We had to show we implemented best practices" to earn certification, said Teresa Moran-Wiebe, Mid-Florida's health services manager. "We ensured we attained those during program hours every day."

But what about on the home front?

At a Brooksville Head Start parent gathering in December, 30 adults eagerly shared their healthy lifestyle experiences.

Mom Tiffany Godfrey, for instance began working out on a home treadmill. Her 13-year-old stepdaughter soon joined in, then signed up for her school track team.

"We tried new foods," Godfrey added, "and that inspired my 10-year-old." The appreciation for previously untried foods filtered down to 5-year-old Kameron. Already having discovered new fruits and vegetables at Head Start, he expanded his horizons further.

Concluded Godfrey, "Just be an example to your child."

Nitza Jerez, a family advocate for Head Start, said she switched from white rice to higher fiber brown rice, washed, too, to eliminate some of its starch.

"Any kind of rice is great," said Jennifer Quinones, mother of Head Starters Iyanna, 5, and Niyah, 4. "(Rice) fills you up so you don't eat a lot of bread."

Observing her son Jacob, 3, and his siblings, mom Beatriz Vega, said, "They eat a burger and then go right to sleep. With healthier food, they go out and exercise."

The 5210 Healthy kids undertaking — which organizers plan to expand to reach older children — was launched more than a year ago with a visual appraisal of each student and measurement to determine body fat, weight and height. Eight children, or .03 percent, were found obese. None were malnourished.

Maner and others devised five weeks of rotating menus for Head Start breakfasts, lunches and afternoon snacks — only water and low-fat milk for beverages, breads of whole wheat or whole grain, snacks heavy on fruits and crackers. Occasionally, they also allow cheese and yogurt, and low-fat dips with vegetable sticks.

At lunch, fish, chicken nuggets and sweet potato "fries" are baked, not fried, Maner pointed out. "We encourage oven-fried at home, too."

"Believe it or not," she said, "they like salads."

Healthy lifestyle proponents offered these insights and tips to parents:

• WIC provides vouchers for buying sometimes-pricier healthy foods.

• Make Friday "Try Day," an opportunity to try a new food, such as kiwi fruit, grape tomatoes, radishes.

• Try a new food on a child at least 10 times before giving up on its acceptance.

• Introduce a new food with something they're accustomed to, such as broccoli with macaroni and cheese or cauliflower with a hot dog.

• Children involved in growing a ew food or involved in preparing it in the kitchen are more inclined to try it.

• Don't reward children with food or punish them with exercise.

Concluded the health department's Ann-Gayle Ellis, "We have to make sure (kids) continue doing at home what they do here at school."

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