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Around the Columns

Help for healthy eating

HemmelgarnNutritional consultant Melinda Hemmelgarn co-wrote Treasure Hunt with the Munch Crunch Bunch: A Healthy, Fun Food Adventure, a book designed to help children make good food choices. Munchcrunchbunch.com features a recipe starring every fruit and vegetable featured in the book.

Photo by Nicholas Benner

Melinda Hemmelgarn is passionate about helping children make healthy food choices.

Hemmelgarn, MS ’87, whose column the “Food Sleuth” appears nationally and in the Columbia Daily Tribune, recently co-wrote Treasure Hunt with the Munch Crunch Bunch: A Healthy, Fun Food Adventure.

Illustrator and co-author Jan Wolterman of Ross, Ohio, approached her about collaborating because of Hemmelgarn’s reputation as a nutritional consultant. Wolterman wanted to convince youngsters that healthy foods are as fun as fast food.

Introducing children to gardening can spark a passion for healthy eating, but fast food dominates popular culture and children’s desires, Hemmelgarn says: “They’ve got toys, a clown and movie tie-ins, for goodness’ sake.”

Treasure Hunt with the Munch Crunch Bunch features a boy who visits a garden with enchanted fruits and vegetables. The book also contains a fold-out board game and trading cards with food riddles. Hemmelgarn hopes they will spark scavenger hunts of produce sections and farmers’ markets.

The strategy of both the book and her work as a registered dietitian is to translate knowledge into behavior. “You have to give people action steps,” she says.

Her top three tips for raising healthy children?

  1. Remove TVs from their bedrooms and limit total screen time. Hemmelgarn taught her children to be critical of the manipulative advertising strategies for junk-food ads. Ask your child: “Do we need this?”
  2. Avoid sweetened drinks, whether diet or regular. “All soda, diet or sweet, is acidic and hurts the teeth,” Hemmelgarn says. Soda displaces healthy drinks such as milk, and even diet soda is linked to weight gain. Plus, cans and bottles contribute to the waste stream. “We'd be better off promoting water — local tap water.”
  3. Say “no” to fast food. “My kids have never had a fast-food meal with me,” Hemmelgarn says. “It wasn’t easy — they’d beg for it. I’d say, ‘No, because I love you.’ ”

Adults have a responsibility to help children learn good food habits. This includes growing and cooking food. “Cooking is a life skill,” Hemmelgarn says. “Taking care of yourself includes feeding yourself. It’s basic, like brushing your teeth.”