Students get a lesson in healthy portions

On a recent Friday afternoon, Sonia Chung took the floor in front of 50 children and their parents at the Foothill YMCA in La Cañada.

Chung, who goes by “Chef Sonia” in the classroom, launched into the two rules for the day. The children were about to prepare healthy snacks and learn how to grow a vegetable plant.

The No. 1 rule: “Wash hands with soap!” Chung encouraged.

Her second rule called for “listening ears” as she launched into what the children would eat and how they would prepare it.

The menu included pita pockets with hummus, lettuce, carrots and slices of Persian cucumbers, bell peppers, baby spinach and turkey.

A second, sweeter snack, “butterfly carrots,” involved baby carrots, low-fat cream cheese, raisins and small twist pretzels.

With help from their parents, the children used butter knives to spread cream cheese on a baby carrot before placing two pretzels at an angle in the cream cheese to resemble butterfly wings — two raisins for the eyes.

As the children arranged their snacks, Chung read them books to tie in with the lesson, including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

“I’ve always used cooking to excite kids about cooking,” Chung said.

As a cook who offers classes for children at the La Cañada Community Center, Chung said she is eager to share a few helpful tips.

“Kids are more likely to eat foods they have helped shop for,” she said.

Friday’s event kicked that idea up a notch as Chung ushered kids to an outside patio where they would plant their own vegetables in compostable pots. They used plastic spoons to scoop the soil in before choosing among pea, tomato or cucumber seeds.

They were advised not to over-water, and to “give it a couple days. You’ll see a sprout come out.”

Ann Marie Schaefer — who helped initiate a series of family events open to non-YMCA members, including “Chef Sonia” — said it is beneficial for children to understand where vegetables come from.

A box of seeds that flourish in the fall, such as carrot and radish, were also available for the children to take home for free.

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