- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Only in Washington will you see a Cabinet member and Cookie Monster featured at the same press conference.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his blue, fuzzy friend from “Sesame Street” joined forces Tuesday to encourage children and parents to take a bite out of healthy eating.

The event was organized to highlight a new partnership - known as Healthy Habits for Life: Get Healthy Now - between Sesame Workshop, the educational wing of “Sesame Street,” and the National Women, Infants and Children Association (WIC), a nonprofit that helps low-income pregnant women and nursing mothers receive proper nutrition and food assistance.

WIC will be delivering family-friendly messages from “Sesame Street” characters to implement the program’s new food packages, which will incorporate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tofu and soy beverages.

In addition to delivering the healthier food packages at WIC clinics around the country, the campaign also includes a media component with a DVD and picture book for children featuring “Sesame Street” characters.



Mr. Vilsack said that in addition to eliminating child hunger by 2015, the Obama administration is placing a priority on child obesity, calling it a “looming crisis.”

For his part, Cookie Monster said he was in the District “to get more cookies. Do you think I came to town for a Cabinet position?”

However, after a demonstration from his “Sesame Street” colleague, Ms. Broccoli, Cookie Monster learned that fruits and vegetables of the green variety can be just as crunchy and appetizing as Oreos.

After the press conference, The Washington Times caught up with Mr. Vilsack, and Mr. Vilsack revealed that Cookie Monster was always his favorite “Sesame Street” personality and that beets were his least favorite veggie.

Children and nutrition were also highlighted this past weekend in Northwest, where George Washington University Hospital and the Junior League sponsored the Healthy Lifestyle Fair where children ages 5 to 15 were invited to take the first steps toward a healthy lifestyle.

Diana Marousek, president of the Junior League of Washington, says the idea for the fair, which started three years ago, was born out of the “growing response to overweight people and all the associated problems like diabetes and hypertension.”

At the fair, some 150 children were taught about portion control, sugar in foods, and how to pick healthy snacks through a series of amusing demonstrations that engaged the children at their level.

The Junior League and George Washington University Hospital invited children from the community and groups such as Boys and Girls Club, Horton’s Kids, and Big Brothers-Big Sisters.

In addition to McGruff the Crime Dog and Washington Nationals mascot Screech, top chefs including Barbara and Jeff Black of the leading seafood restaurant BlackSalt were on hand, complete with white chef uniforms, to teach youngsters how to make fruit smoothies. Their 8-year-old son, Oliver, was there to give his parents moral support and told The Washington Times he enjoys making pizza in his kitchen at home.

Mr. Black says events like this are important because “kids need to understand where their food comes from. It doesn’t come from the fast-food restaurant. It comes from the earth. There is a process outside of the city.”

Mr. Black says he and his wife take children to farms so they can see the origins of their meals.

The role of food in a healthy lifestyle should be instilled in children at an early age, says Polly Wiedmaier, who along with her husband, Robert, owns three area restaurants, Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck and Brabo.

“Children acquire their taste in food at a young age. We incorporate our kids in the cooking at home all the time because that’s how you figure out what they like. My kids love to make mussels with us.”

Each child left the event a happy camper with a goody bag featuring a hat, Frisbee, first-aid kit, children’s cookbook, mug and a small red kickball from the Cartoon Network.

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