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January 23, 2014

Muppets' mini-makeover aims to boost kids' health

(Continued)

In New York, where the program plans to launch in several early childhood and Head Start programs this spring and fall, project leaders will have to tackle under- and overweight kids.

"A lot of the kids are from low-income families, shelters," and many have poor access to healthy foods, said Rachael Lynch, director of educational services for an Episcopal Social Services preschool, The Learning Center, in Harlem. "It's a mecca for fast food around here. We're trying to get them to walk past the Chinese food or pizza or McDonald's, to go home and make something."

Her preschool tested the Sesame Street project last summer and "it really took off" with kids and parents, she said.

"They love it. The kids relate, I can't stress it enough," to the Sesame Street characters, she said.

The program had kids work in a nearby community garden one day a week to learn about growing vegetables. They had a "mystery food box" to reach inside, feel and guess the contents, then use what they found to make a healthy snack such as smoothies, fruit salads, microwaved baked apples and apple dip.

Children took home a "weekend update" to list and draw pictures of what they ate. Parents were asked to sign it to encourage an adult focus on healthy meals.

Kateshia Strowder said the program had a big impact on her and her daughter, Jahmeice.

"We'd be in the grocery store and she would name every vegetable. It's amazing. Brussels sprouts — she likes it. Cabbage — she likes it," Strowder said. "I'm not a vegetable eater, to be honest. But I had to learn to do those things for her."

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