Growing Good Eating Habits: The Value of Good Nutrition

With rates of childhood obesity rising to epidemic levels nationally, the Cincinnati-based nonprofit Gabriel’s Place is trying to change that trend, one fresh vegetable at a time. Gabriel’s Place offers locally grown produce, health-oriented cooking classes and food-education programs.

Cincinnati Children’s is a neighbor and has sponsored programs at Gabriel’s Place. Jill Klein, MD, is a pediatrician in the Pediatric Primary Care Center at Cincinnati Children’s. She often focuses on obesity and nutrition issues with families, and believes what Gabriel’s Place offers is just the ticket for building better food choices. She advises that nutrition education should begin even before the baby is born.

“Prenatal visits, that’s when we should start giving moms this information,” Klein says. “The infant and toddler years are especially important because parents still have control of what their children eat, with the exception maybe of day care. Later, kids begin to make their own decisions, so it’s important to have those habits ingrained.”

Five-year-old Jayden Turner of Avondale is a shining example. Jayden and her grandmother, Anna Joiner, visit the Gabriel’s Place produce market each Thursday, and Jayden quickly launched into a list of her favorite things.

“I know good healthy foods. I like vegetables,” she says. “I like broccoli and carrots and dip. Because you want to grow up to be big and strong. Oh also, yum, strawberries. And carrots. And tomatoes. And lettuce.”

Jayden’s grandmother grows tomatoes in her Avondale front yard and Jayden helps out, which Klein applauds. Gabriel’s Place also has a garden where kids from the neighborhood can come to help grow food.

“There are so many benefits, just getting kids outside in fresh air and working with their hands,” Klein says. “Also, it’s good psychologically because the kids are involved in the process, and they are more significantly likely to eat healthy foods that way.”

Klein subscribes to the theory of 5-2-1-0 in a child’s daily diet. That’s five fruits or vegetables per day, less than two hours of TV and computer screen time, one hour of physical exercise that breaks a sweat, and zero sweet beverages and sugars.

“The easiest component is the fruits and vegetables,” Klein says. “The hardest is probably the sweetened beverages and sugars. Kids are drinking far too much sugary juice and soda. Parents need to look at the sugar content on the label.”