ABC's of healthy shopping for teens
For a group of urban teen girls, lessons in nutrition began in the produce section and ended in dairy at a suburban supermarket a few miles from their school. But the give-and-take was the most energetic in the meat section.
Stay away from the bacon, salami and the frying pan, a university student dietitian advised the teens. Broil or grill lean protein like fish instead. Trim the fat off red meat and the skin off chicken.
"The skin makes the chicken taste good," protested 15-year-old Andrea Hagins. But she acknowledged that "if it's better to help my health, I should try it out."
The young women are students in Teem Esteem, a 3-year-old program that aims to teach good nutrition and offers options to the standard physical education classes at Trenton Central High School. The girls are guided through a supermarket and taught how to buy more nutritious foods.
Their fitness classes offer enticing options, including circuit training, cardio dance and karate complete with a trainer who trains them on the use of exercise balls and free weights.
They also get instruction on cooking and hear lectures on topics such as body image, date rape and bulimia, said their teacher Constance Kelley.
About half the students at the school come from low-income households, a group that is at risk for obesity and its related diseases, said Bonnie Arkus, director of the New Jersey-based Women's Heart Foundation, which is collaborating with the school.
If teens can establish healthy eating habits now, they can reduce their risk for chronic ilnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, said Gerri McKay, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
"Our goal is to empower the young women to clearly use the (nutrition) label to make the choices," said McKay, whose students led the teens around the store. "What they're doing today as adolescents is going to directly affect their health as adults."
After a presentation about produce, Kyran Williams, 15, confessed she doesn't eat many fruits and vegetables at home.
"In my household, we really aren't that healthy-eating people," she said. "I learned a lot that I didn't know."
Keyana Montique, 15, said she plans to cut the fat off meat before cooking it and read nutrition labels, especially about serving size.
"I never paid attention to it (a nutrition label) until now, how much sugar is in things, serving size," she said. "I'll tell my mom we need to shop better."
Kelley, their teacher, said she's "seen a difference, especially in motivation and their attitude."
Girls who took the supermarket tour in previous years say they continue to use the tips and many have lost weight.
Ana Maldonado, 18, a peer leader for the sophomore class, said she eats less fat, less salt and has cut out soda and fast food. She's lost 10 pounds.
"This is going to be a life experience I can share with my cousins," she said. "I could be healthy."
Instead of potato chips and french fries, she snacks on fruit and yogurt.
Another peer leader, 15-year-old Giselle DelValle, said she has lost 30 pounds since attending the class.
"I eat more vegetables and fruit instead of eating fried food and junk food," she said. "I read the nutrition labels. Now I know if something has too much salt, I don't eat it."
What we do in life echoes in eternity.