By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.– Playing with your food was A-OK at school this week.
FoodPlay, a traveling theater show, served up a main course of fun to students at Oakwood and Harvey Swanson Elementary students, with the intent to “turn kids on to healthy eating and active living.”
“I thought this would be a great idea to bring here and show the students how great it is to have some knowledge of nutrition,” said Brandon Food Services Director Suzanne Evenson. “A theater-type production is a great way to get the message across to students. They need to know what good food choices are. I would say there are quite a few students that need to know about good nutrition.”
Barbara Storpor, a nutritionist, created the production company more than 30 years ago, bringing the message of the importance of healthy eating to kids through fun programs at their schools.
The doubling of childhood obesity during this same timeframe underscores the need for the program, which she said has been proven through studies to be effective for children who attend the shows.
Among the factors that have contributed to children’s poor eating habits, she said, include the more than 10,000 food advertisements directs at kids every year, the majority promoting foods laden with sugar, salt, fat and additives.
Busy families, with single parent households or two working parents lacking time to cook healthy meals, also adds to the problem, as well as economics, the proliferation of fast food, the rise of computer games and an increase in sedentary kids as well as unsafe neighborhoods.
FoodPlay, however, works to counteract negative trends through the power of live theater, juggling, music, magic and audience participation to turn kids on to living healthfully.
The program cost $1,295 and was paid for out of the food service budget, but was well worth it, said Evenson, for what it teaches kids.
“The goal is to trigger excitement for the whole school to create a healthier environment,” said Storpor.
“The show is really geared to arm kids with the skills to make healthy eating and living choices.”
Through a fun show they learn to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables, to “read before you eat”— deciphering food labels, and to eat more whole foods rather than packaged. The importance of physical activity is also emphasized, and most importantly, said Storpor, they learn everyone comes in a different shape and size and that quick fix diets are dangerous.
“We want them to understand there are a lot of ways to be attractive and to accept yourself and take care of yourself whatever size and shape you are,” she said. “We want them to see through media messages and peer pressure, so they make choices that are good for their health.”
The shows also focus on the importance of eating a good breakfast, and that breakfast is available at school. Additionally, there is talk about ways to destress without reaching for food.
“The whole idea is to make good eating great fun,” she continued. “They are laughing so much, they don’t realize how much they are learning.”
Elementary-aged students are the perfect audience, said Storpor, as they are very receptive and have an easier time starting or changing habits. They can also take the message home to their parents.
She has a message for parents as well: Model healthy eating and speak positively, not negatively, about healthy foods.
Storpor, who lost her mother at a young age to cancer, said so much in life is out of our hands, but what we choose to put in our bodies is one thing we have complete control over.
She hopes parents and children will take advantage of that power and make a positive difference in their health.