At Columbia after-school program, kids get a lesson in healthy eating

Kenyatta Jennings, 9, of Columbia hadn’t heard of hummus before learning how to make the snack at the Rideout Heath Community Center near her home in Columbia.

“I didn’t really like hummus too much, but I’ve learned about a lot of new fruits and vegetables that I do like,” Kenyatta says.

Trying new foods and gaining knowledge on how to eat healthy is something that Kenyatta and the children of the Section 8 Roslyn Rise and Rideout Heath housing communities are learning through an after-school program called Taste and Move.

The program, hosted by the Community Services Foundation and funded through a grant from the Horizon Foundation, teaches children about the importance healthy eating and lifestyles through hands-on cooking demonstrations, lessons on nutrition, yoga classes and other physical activities.

“We’re teaching them healthy lifestyles that they can continue for years to come and then pass on to their own children someday,” says Shenita Vanish, vice president of the Community Services Foundation.

The program, which started in February, is held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for those ages 5 through 12.

Vanish says it’s the first time that some of the children have ever seen fresh fruit: “Sometimes they’ve never seen things like a fresh peach because they always have them out of a can.”

The program also includes dinner provided by the Maryland Department of Education to help children in low-income communities get a nutritious meal.

“It’s really incredible to see these children get an education in nutrition and gain healthy habits when it comes to eating and exercising,” says Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “We’re thrilled to be able to help and to see them bringing these new skills and recipes home to their families.”

Kenyatta’s dad, Kenneth Jennings, says he’s seen a major difference in his daughter’s eating habits.

“If I have some Little Debbies on the fridge and bananas on the door, I see her grab the banana first,” Jennings says. “She’ll try to make a balance in her eating habits. She eats a lot more fruit and even asks for more vegetables at dinner.”

And after her lessons from the Taste and Move program on how to read nutrition labels, Kenyatta is now even helping at the grocery store.

“She’ll read the labels and help to decide what’s healthy and what we should be eating at home,” Jennings says.

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