By Victoria Necessary

Take a cupful of Junior League volunteers, add a handful of impressionable young minds, bowls and bowls of healthy snacks, a few hands-on learning games, a few spoonfuls of jumping jacks and sprinting, and a healthy dose of food pyramid resources, mix and have fun.

That’s the recipe for the Junior League of Atlanta’s Kids in the Kitchen initiative, an international program established to help young children learn to make healthier food choices. The program made a stop at the Brookhaven Boys & Girls Club last month.

The program comes as childhood obesity soars across the nation and around the world, a problem that has led to the formation of a plethora of international task forces.

“Nutrition traps” abound in the foods most American youths consume for their daily nutritional needs. Junior League literature for Kids in the Kitchen says, “Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth more than tripled over two decades, rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-19999,” according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

The Kids in the Kitchen presentation forces children to get active and choose wisely. Teachable moments arise from “choosing” games in which volunteers point out hidden ingredients in items deemed healthy by packaging blurbs.

At the Brookhaven program, children ranging in age from elementary school to high school took part in the healthy fun. They were fed tidbits of information to share with their family and peers.

“Gushers are not healthy just because the package says that it has fruit juice in it,” one Junior League volunteer told a young child. “It is actually full of unhealthy sugars.”

All of the students were involved and motivated as the volunteers manned their activity stations and imparted food tips while passing out snacks in moderation.

An activity called Shopping Cart or Trash Can was particularly popular. Children were asked to run to a table laden with food items, grab one, then race with it either to the shopping cart, indicating a good food choice, or to the trash can, indicating a bad food choice. Almost every child at the event chose accurately, though a humorous moment occurred when an overripe, blackened banana found its way into the trash can instead of the shopping cart.

The Junior League is presenting Kids in the Kitchen to dozens of organizations. Each program is designed to meet the needs of the specific group. Parents also receive information about healthy food choices during health fairs. For more information about Kids in the Kitchen, visit www.jlatlanta.org or www.kidsinthekitchen.org.