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Fighting Fear of Veggies

Fighting Fear of Veggies

THE “STUDIO AUDIENCE” GASPS. Some proceed to encourage the contestants, others jeer good naturedly. At the end, there is applause and cheering.

Is this another TV game show? Not exactly.

In fact, it is an event that takes place in an elementary school auditorium, with the contestants being students at the school. The challenge they must face: eat something “gross,” a la the popular TV show “The Fear Factor.”

But “gross” is a relative term here, something not so much distasteful as simply unfamiliar: an exotic piece of produce such as a starfruit, a daikon or a bitter lemon for example.

Usually, the contestants find they…well, actually kind of like it. Which of course makes their peers in the “audience” also want to try it.

And THAT is the point.

The Fear Factor knockoff is just one of a number of creative events deployed by the El Monte (CA) City School District to encourage children (the district is K-8) to embrace healthy habits, including eating fresh fruits and vegetables (even bitter melon!) and engaging in more physical activity.

Other events include Walk to School Days, artwork and writing contests, farmer in the classroom events and the Caught Eating Healthy promotion, where students get tickets to a prize drawing if they're “caught” eating something healthy by a teacher or administrator.

It is all part of a program developed by the district in partnership with the Network for a Healthy California initiative to implement a new nutrition-related curriculum.

“We wanted to make it something that the kids would embrace, something that would be fun,” says Program Coordinator Corina Ulloa. “Our goal is for the children to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetalbes and engage in 60 minutes of physical activity each day.”

Fun and engagement are the key components of each activity. Take Caught Eating Healthy, a promotion that rewards students “caught eating” something healthy by a teacher or nutrition aide with a ticket to a drawing. The prizes are “things like balls and jump ropes that reinforce the idea of physical activity and healthy lifestyles,” Ulloa says.

The program also extends to teachers, parents and the community with targeted activities such as worshops, newsletters and staff wellness initiatives for teachers, community jog-a-thons, nutrition education events and Bring Your Parents to Breakfast days.

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