Sonia Chung stood at the front of a third-grade classroom at La Cañada Elementary School Wednesday and held up several commonly consumed beverages, including soda, apple juice and chocolate milk.
“It is easy to just suck these down,” she said, brandishing a Capri Sun juice packet.
What the drinks have in common are large amounts of sugar, said Chung, a parent volunteer who teachers healthy cooking classes at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA and the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge.
The presentation, which steered from sugars and fats to protein and exercise, was one of many during the course of La Cañada Elementary School’s Nutrition Week, designed to educate children about the benefits of maintaining a healthy diet.
Launched last year by parent volunteers who work in the health and nutrition fields, the week-long effort could help to establish life-long habits, organizers said.
Studies have shown that children with healthy diets are less likely to miss school and perform better academically, said Wendy Crump, a parent volunteer and a Registered Dietitian. Good nutrition also can decrease the risks for major medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
“We are seeing a lot of pre-diabetes in young children due to childhood obesity,” Crump said. “When you address it at a young age, certainly it is easier to deal with it because we haven’t established our eating habits. Once we address it as an adult, it becomes a little bit more of a challenge.”
If children are educated about making healthy food choices, they are more likely to do so when they are on their own, Crump said. Food packaging can be misleading, Crump added, noting that many products that are advertised as healthy in fact contain high levels of sugars and fats.
Nutrition week activities included teaching students how to accurately read nutrition labels on the backs of food products, and what types of fats and what levels of sugars to avoid.
“Your body does need fat, but the kind it doesn’t need is saturated fat,” Chung told her audience.
Students also were introduced to the food groups plate, which has replaced the food pyramid as the visual reference for how much of each of the five food groups a person should consume. At the top of the list remain vegetables and whole grains, followed by dairy and fruits.
“You want to have a healthy diet,” Chung said. “You are old enough to know good choices and bad choices. I always tell my kids, ‘If you make good choices, good things will happen. If you make bad choices, bad things happen.’”