By Jon Craig
The Elmsford-based Food Bank of Westchester joined the Town of Greenburgh last week in launching a new initiative called Eat Healthy New York. The program, aimed at making good meal-planning fun, featured East Greenwich nutritional consultant and children’s author Joy Feldman, who played a video of her book, “Is Your Hair Made of Donuts.” Feldman, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and others donned a decorative hat replete with sticky, gooey, sprinkled donuts to drive home the point that poor eating habits can undermine productive lives.
When asked if they’d ever eaten so much chocolate that it made them sick, many of the more than 100 students packing an auditorium at Richard J. Bailey School in Greenburgh shook their heads “no.” But by the end of an hour-long assembly, they all were standing and smiling with their right hands raised in the air, taking a “healthy eating oath” led by Feiner. “I promise to eat well each day and each night, I know it’s the key to growing up right!”
If your diet is filled with French fries, donuts, ice cream and junk food, Feiner explained, “You’re going to be sick. If you’re not healthy, you’re not going to enjoy your life.”
Calling obesity a national epidemic, Feldman said, “You are what you eat. We try to make learning about nutrition fun (and) make sure you check your hair for sprinkles.”
Childhood obesity rates tripled in the past 30 years, a trend that means, for the first time in American history, children may face a shorter than expected lifespan than their parents. Thursday’s events in Greenburgh and at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mount Kisco were designed to encourage children to learn about healthy foods and become advocates for nutritious eating. The Food Bank’s Kraft Mobile Food Pantry delivered hundreds of pounds of bananas and apples to R.J. Bailey School.
Ellen Lynch, executive director of the Food Bank for Westchester said that partnering with the Town of Greenburgh to customize the successful Eat Healthy Rhode Island program in New York “is a fabulous and impactful way to reach children during National Nutrition Month.”
The partnership is seeking a national audience for Eat Healthy Rhode Island, an initiative created by Feldman and sponsored by The Picture of Children’s Health. “You guys are the very first ones to try Eat Healthy New York,’’ Lynch said.
Lynch added, “We are continually working to find creative ways to leverage resources to reach more people with nutritious food and to educate our communities about the importance of nutrition.”
Last year’s All State Read in Rhode Island, an event featuring a variety of programs built around reading Is Your Hair Made Out of Donuts? engaged more than 75,000 students in more than 200 schools statewide. And the second-annual event, now known as Eat Healthy RI, promises to be even bigger. “We expect a total of more than 120,000 participants in 407 schools, community organizations, and businesses to hear, watch or listen to a variety of selected options and books, and participate in a wide range of activities designed to motivate kids to celebrate good health and create a new culture of wellness,” Feldman said.
“Our hope is that other school districts, community organizations and businesses will hear our message and want to become a part of this initiative,” Feiner said.
After Thursday’s assembly, Feldman’s “donuts” book was read in the library and students received official Eat Healthy NY certificates. Similar readings were planned at the Lee F. Jackson School in Hartsdale and other area schools.
“We are at a juncture where we need to empower children to learn what healthy foods are and are not, and to help them become their own best advocates when asking for and receiving meals,” Feldman said. “It is time for us and for our children to learn they are what they eat. The early years are crucial for children’s health because young people have tremendous internal demands on their bodies for development. They are building a system and laying a foundation of health for a lifetime. And by implementing creative and educational healthy eating programs for children, nutrition education and other collaborative efforts we can effectively assist in reducing the staggering statistics in the current childhood obesity crisis.”