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Strike a Chord: New York City Program Teaches Healthy Habits at an Early Age

by Stephanie Kuo
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Stephanie Kuo, WFUV

WFUV's Strike a Chord campaign is focusing on urban health.

At PS 33 in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, you won't find any soda or any snacks high in fat or sugar. 

Instead, you'll see scores of elementary school students, lining up at the "cafe" -- that's what they call their lunch room now.

"The children, they come in and they ask, 'What is the vegetable for today?'. Before it was, 'What are we having for dessert?'."

That's Linore Lindy. She's the school's principal, and an avid champion of nutrition education. That's why Food Bank for NYC has set up its CookShop program at PS 33. For 18 weeks, teachers and parents will help students in Pre-K through third grade learn about the benefits of healthy eating by exposing them to new vegetables and teaching them how to cook.

"They realize that they are what they eat," she said. "They bring that information back to their home, encourage their parents on shopping trips to get healthy vegetables and fruits, and then they, of course, want to help their parents with the cooking."

On this day at PS 33, students ages 7-8 are making corn and tomato salsa with veggie scoops. One thing is clear over all the chatter. They love CookShop. Take Christian, for example.

"I never ate vegetables before," he said. "But now when I went to Cookshop, I'm now really liking the vegetables."

The hands-on CookShop program serves more than 400,000 low-income children in more than 1,800 New York City public school classrooms -- most of which are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Neighborhoods in both boroughs, like the South Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant, show some of the most alarming rates of obesity and diabetes not only across the city, but across the entire country. Many experts attribute that to a lack of affordable, fresh produce, an overabundance of fast food, and rising poverty, which all make cooking healthy meals daily an even more unlikely possibility for urban families.

But Principal Lindy, who's made it her goal to be at the forefront of nutrition education in the city, says the kids applaud the CookShop classes. It's their favorite part of the week. And that gives her hope.

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