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Local kids gain appreciation for fresh foods


In an effort to get area children to be healthier eaters, local pediatrician Dr. Nimali Fernando led a summer camp last week where kids learned basic cooking skills and sampled tomatoes, leafy greens and other fresh foods.

Fernando—also known as “Dr. Yum”—organized the camp to inspire children ages 7 to 12 to sample foods they might not normally try, and to teach them to appreciate healthy foods.

Fernando said she hoped the children in the class would leave with a new appreciation for fresh, plant-based foods, an open mind about trying new foods and a knowledge of how to be healthy eaters.

“We’re not making cupcakes in this cooking class,” said Fernando, founder of the Doctor Yum Project, a nonprofit devoted to combating childhood obesity and diet-related illnesses.

Each day during the 2-hour class, the students learned about a different food, had nutrition lessons on each food and recorded ethnic dishes they prepared in their “food passports.” They also made drawings about what they’d done in class.

Monday’s class featured citrus fruits, and students made a Brazilian citrus salad with a lemon vinaigrette, stamping Brazil in their food passports.

The rest of the week’s lessons focused on locally grown foods. Tuesday, for example, was tomato day. The children made an heirloom tomato salad, plus tomato sauce in a blender.

Campers also enjoyed a field trip during the week, to a Fredericksburg business called Taste Oil Vinegar Spice, which sells different kinds of olive oils, vinegars and organic spices.

On the field trip, the students sampled olive oils and balsamic vinegars. They also blended the oils and vinegars with foods provided by Taste—trying combinations such as watermelon with feta cheese they learned about pairing flavors.

They also learned about healthy fats in olive oil from Taste’s owners, George Farrar and Jan Davis—continuing a previous lesson about healthy fats that involved the avocados in their citrus salad.

Camper Dane DiEugenio, 9, who attends Odyssey Montessori School, said his favorite vinegar was the raspberry balsamic. Fernando’s son Zane, also a camper, said his favorite was the blackberry ginger balsamic vinegar mixed with walnut oil.

Farrar said he sees a lot of parents come into his store with their kids and discourage them from trying the oils.

“The children ask and they say ‘No, you wouldn’t like it,’” he said. “But then there are some who try it and really like it.”

During the campers’ field trip, Farrar said he was happy to see children so open-minded about food.

Fernando, who’s been a pediatrician in the area for seven years, said childhood obesity “overwhelms me at my practice.”

“We need to do better at battling childhood obesity,” she said. “It’s an ailment they don’t have to have, if they ate healthier foods.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent, or 12.5 million, children and adolescents ages 2 through 19 are obese. The number has tripled since 1980.

Obese children are more prone to cardiovascular disease, impaired glucose tolerance and Type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and joint problems, the CDC says.

Fernando said she would like to expand the class to reach more kids, possibly by offering it as an after-school activity once a week.

“There are a lot of possibilities for what can be done with it,” she said.

The class is one of several ways the Doctor Yum Project hopes to improve the health and dietary habits of area children. A school garden at Odyssey Montessori is another of the nonprofit’s initiatives.

Dane, the 9-year-old, said having a garden helps him know where his food comes from, and he likes that. Fernando’s son Zane, who also attends the school, works in the garden as well.

Zane also taste-tests recipes for his mom’s blog,, where she posts healthy recipes and tips for raising healthy children.

“I like cooking and tasting things,” he said. “It’s fun because I get to taste things from lots of places like Italy and Africa. I get to try things I’ve never tried before.”

To get kid-tested recipes plus a pediatrician’s tips for teaching kids to love good foods, visit

To learn more about the Doctor Yum Project, visit

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976