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Edible Caterpillars Anyone? Kids in the Kitchen Program at MU Combats Childhood Obesity

With Children's Health Month in October, it's time to mind your food groups

Sept. 19, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Kids in the Kitchen may sound like a messy proposition, but a University of Missouri Extension program is using the idea to combat childhood obesity. According to the American Heart Association, 16 percent of all kids and teens are overweight. As a solution to this problem, the program, available to youth ages 6 to 15, emphasizes basic cooking skills, physical activity, good nutrition, food safety and healthy food choices through hands on activities.

Though children are learning valuable life lessons, mainly that healthy food can taste good, the atmosphere is far from classroom-like. Children are allowed to prepare food themselves. For example, with “edible caterpillars,” they get to assemble celery, peanut butter, raisins and pretzels.

“If a child is allowed to prepare the food, they are more likely to try new foods and make healthier choices,” said Candance Gabel, a registered dietitian, associate state nutrition specialist with MU Extension and assistant program director in the College of Human and Environmental Sciences.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, nearly four out of 10 Missouri children and teens are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. October is Children's Health Month and more focus is being put on children's health awareness and fighting a growing obesity problem. However, MU Extension isn't just working with children, but officials are talking to entire families. As low-income families may have only a limited amount of food stamps a month to spend on groceries, many children don't get the opportunity to sample a variety of healthy foods, according to Gabel.

“A healthy lifestyle can start with even a simple lesson: eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day,” Gabel said. “If we can get people to do that starting at the age of five through 105, we'd all be healthier.”

For more information on Kids in the Kitchen program, visit in the MU Extension Website.