Pass the Peas, Please
NEP helps Head Start preschoolers get a jump on nutrition by making vegetables the life of the party
If you happen to overhear a preschooler at the grocery store begging mom not for the latest sugary treat but for broccoli and red peppers, it’s a good bet he’s benefited from one of NEP’s healthy eating workshops.
Those workshops have helped nearly 800 youngsters from families in Worcester, Massachusetts, discover the enticing crunch and taste of fresh vegetables through “veggie parties” that turn trying new and unfamiliar foods into a celebration. “It’s a really nice opportunity for children to see foods that aren’t typically used in a party atmosphere, to eat vegetables instead of chips,” says Robyn DeCiero, NEP Nutrition Educator. “And the great thing is that it’s hands on. They’re actually smelling, touching, and tasting foods that they may have never seen before.”
The festivities begin with colorful placemats handmade by each child, and continue with a bountiful veggie buffet of raw peppers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and other tempting choices, accompanied by a healthy yogurt-based dip. Plates are filled, seats chosen, and the party’s in swing. “It’s amazing how much they eat!”
Parents get in on the fun too. At the classroom teacher’s invitation, as many as 15 moms and dads have shown up for the big event, taking pride in seeing their children eating such healthy foods.
Taking pride and, more often than not, being pleasantly shocked. “One 3-year-old came up to me in the market and said, ‘Look, Mommy, there’s my teacher,’” recalls Nutrition Educator Antonia Young. “‘She teaches me how to eat fruits and vegetables.’ Her mother was just amazed. She said, ‘Oh, I love this program. My daughter was such a picky eater. She never used to eat vegetables, and now she’s asking for cauliflower!’”
Classroom teachers are noticing the difference too. One local preschool teacher reports that long after the two-day workshop, her students still talk about eating healthy snacks and foods to “grow strong,” and that they encourage one another to try new foods.
But for NEP Educators, nothing beats the sight of moms, dads, and children sitting together around classroom tables enjoying healthy snacks that will hopefully become part of their daily routine. As one enthusiastic parent put it, “We’re going to have to start veggie parties at home!”