Infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers: more than half of the 17 million American children who regularly face hunger are under the age 6.
We all know that very young children need proper nutrition to fuel this rapid period of growth and development, and that the lack of adequate food during this critical time can have lasting effects on a child's health and academic achievement.
To help support the food security of low-income families of young children, Sesame Workshop launched Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget today at a community event at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, DC, a member of the Feeding America network.
Leave it to the organization behind Sesame Street to create a remarkably entertaining and informative initiative to address childhood hunger. Food for Thought offers bi-lingual, multi-media materials for both youth and adult audiences, including resources for making for healthy food choices for parents and caregivers; a children's DVD and story book that features Sesame Street friends talking about healthy eating and families who struggle with hunger; and an interactive website with games and resources that encourage families to make cooking and mealtime a family affair.
As a mother who always enjoyed seeing her own children get excited about Sesame Street, I was thrilled to be invited to participate in the Sesame Workshop Advisory Board on Food Insecurity. In addition to being part of the conversation about addressing childhood hunger, my participation also presented me with the occasion to speak with everyone's favorite 3 1/2-year-old, Elmo:
Vicki: Hi Elmo.
Elmo: Hi Vicki! Elmo just ate breakfast!
Vicki: You did? Was it good?
Elmo: Yes. Elmo loves eating a healthy breakfast because it gives Elmo energy to start the day and Elmo's mommy and daddy say it's the most important meal of the day.
Vicki: That's right! A good breakfast prepares your growing body and mind for a day of learning and play. It's also important for children to eat healthy foods throughout the day.
Elmo: Elmo's mom says healthy snacks are tasty and good for Elmo and provide energy to stay strong and healthy. Elmo loves healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, low-fat cheese, rice cakes and even hummus.
Vicki: Wow, you're a very adventurous eater!
Elmo: Trying something new can be hard, you may not like it when you first see it but you won't know until you take a bite -- or try it more than once. Elmo never ate a kiwi before but Elmo tried it and now Elmo loves kiwi!
Vicki: I like kiwi too. Fruits and vegetables are my favorites.
Elmo: Fruits and vegetables are anytime foods. Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day.
Vicki: Elmo, do you help your mommy or daddy makes meals?
Elmo: Elmo's mommy takes Elmo food shopping with her to help pick out all Elmo's favorite healthy foods and Elmo even gets to help Elmo's mommy in the kitchen!
Vicki: That's a wonderful way to spend time with your mommy! Afterward, do you sit down and eat together as a family?
Elmo: Yes. Elmo enjoys eating a meal or snack with Elmo's family -- it's is a special time of the day together. Any meal or snack time can be family time!
Vicki: That's right! But, Elmo, did you know that there are many families who do not have enough healthy meals or snacks to eat?
Elmo: Elmo's Mommy told him that sometimes grown-ups and kids do not have enough healthy foods to eat. But she also told Elmo that there are ways to help families to get healthy food.
Vicki: Your mommy's right. There are lots of ways for us to help hungry families -- we can donate or volunteer our time. Even someone as small as you can help!
Elmo: Elmo can help?
Vicki: You sure can. As a matter of fact, you're helping right now. Just by talking about children who don't get enough to eat, you're helping to make people aware of the problem. Is there anything else you'd like to spread the word about?
Elmo: Eat healthy! Play Healthy! Elmo's going to go play now -- goodbye!
While the average 3 1/2-year-old may know that eating broccoli is good for her, children cannot fully comprehend the effects that their diet has on their overall health and well-being. As our nation faces the rising rates of childhood hunger, obesity and diet-related health problems, it is our responsibility to teach our children the value of a healthy diet.
I encourage readers to share this post and visit SesameStreet.org/food to get the little ones in your life thinking about healthy food choices. It's never too early to get children on the path to healthy eating.
Follow Vicki B. Escarra on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vickiescarra