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St. John’s program fosters healthy diet

A recent scene at a Briarwood middle school seemed like a parent’s pipe dream turned reality.

Crowded around a table filled with such nutritious snacks as whole wheat cereals, dried cranberries and celery at PS 217 two Fridays ago was a group of middle school students who espoused the values of healthy eating.

“The snacks are good,” said Kayla Saxton, a 12−year−old student at PS 217. “It’s nice to get served healthy snacks because then you think about what’s good for your body and what’s not.”

Saxton was about one of 60 students at the middle school’s after−school program to get a crash course about wholesome snacks — bought with a $500 grant recently given by UnitedHealthcare to the After−School All−Stars program based at St. John’s University. UnitedHealthcare awarded several grants to city groups that are tackling childhood obesity.

The After−School All−Stars used the money to show about 200 students enrolled at after−school programs at the Briarwood school and at PS 192 in St. Albans how to make themselves nutritious, but still tasty, snacks last Thursday and Friday.

“We’re hoping the students will learn how to incorporate healthy snacks into their regular diet,” said Alan Fields, executive director of After−School All−Stars New York at St. John’s. “We want them to be able to teach their parents and siblings how to carry on better eating practices.”

Students were able to pick snacks that appealed to their sweet tooths, but even those options, such as fat−free pudding, aimed to be healthier than the soda and chips middle school students can gravitate toward. And while there were such choices as gummy bears, the after−school participants even passed them over and munched on celery sticks and peanut butter.

“I really like the ants on a log,” 11−year−old Saqline Khan said of the celery sticks, peanut butter and raisins combination.

Eric Stoddard, director of programs for After−School All−Stars, and Laura Burlacu, the All−Stars’ program coordinator at PS 217, said they are trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle in general. After−school students frequently play a slew of sports and participate in modern dance.

To better teach students about living better, after−school program staff underwent professional development in nutrition and fitness earlier this year, Stoddard and Burlacu said.

“We want students to know there’s more to life than McDonald’s,” said Jennifer Zweifler, an after−school employee and St. John’s University education major.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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