Children First: Tulare County children learning how to count calories

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Children in Tulare County are learning about healthier eating.

In the Tulare County town of Terra Bella, fourth-graders learn about food labels, including how many calories are in Hot Cheetos.

Jaylyn Gomez tasted something new.

"I liked the black beans with salsa and corn. It's actually more like gooder," said Jaylyn.

Alexandra Rogers is the lead dietician with Tulare County Office of Education. She visits Terra Bella Elementary and ten other Tulare County schools educating students on nutritious food.

Gardens sprout on campus through the Harvest of the Month program.

Rogers says, "The main goal of the garden is really for not just the teachers, but the kids to come in and really take some ownership. We've done everything from green beans to sugar snap peas, snow peas, strawberries."

Hands-on equals more buy-in!

Adam Vera is in fourth grade at Terra Bella Elementary and likes the new garden on campus.

Vera says, "So that way when they're done growing, you can eat them and then you can get their seeds and plant them again."

One in every six children faces hunger in the U.S. California will launch its universal school meals program next fall.

All 6.2 million public school students will have the option to eat school meals for free, regardless of their family's income.

Nick Garcia is the Superintendent of Terra Bella Union Elementary School District, who says it is essential children have access to nutritious meals.

"Hungry children have a harder time learning. We really want everybody to be at the peak of a physical condition and mental condition...so they'll be able to learn every day," said Garcia.

The central valley is one of the richest agricultural regions globally, yet not everyone has access to or can afford fresh produce. Terra Bella is considered a food desert with few grocery stores. Takis and tacos are less expensive but not always good for the waistline.

Veronica Andrade works with Tulare County Department of Public Health and educates families about healthier living.

"The other issue with rural communities is we don't have access to healthcare. We have transportation issues. The majority of the population is Hispanic, Latino, which we all know Hispanics, Latino population have a greater risk for developing diabetes type two. A lot of them, you know, become pre-diabetic. We also have a high rate of obesity," said Andrade.

Tulare County Health and Human Services added nine refrigerated units to convenience stores throughout Tulare County using a state grant. Terra Bella received two of them, now filled with affordable California-grown produce.

"There is a shop healthy here pledge, basically an agreement between the store and our program.

And one of the requirements for that, one of the commitments is that the store will not raise their prices. The market price will not go up to more than 35%," says Andrade.

Adam is willing to try something a little different that's healthier.

He and other students are getting the message about food choices.

"Gelatin is pretty good, but it has more sugars, but cucumber is pretty good. And it has less sugars," says Adam.

Messages that will spread beyond the classroom.

Adam adds, " I would tell them, 'Hey mom, could we try this new thing? This new thing we ate at school.'"
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