Wegmans Expanding Kids' Healthy Eating Program

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Wegmans Food Markets here said this week that its 'Veggie Patch' healthy cooking and eating program for scouts, which is currently offered at six Wegmans locations in the greater Rochester area and in Canandaigua, N.Y., would this year expand to select stores in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.

"We brainstormed about effective ways to engage kids, and realized that partnering with organizations that already worked with kids made sense," said Wegmans manager of fresh meal solutions Nella Neeck, who helped develop the program, in a statement. "The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were both very supportive and worked with us to design a program for their Brownies and Cubs, ages 6 to 8."

The aim of Veggie Patch class is to instruct kids in the basics of nutrition. "We say, eat a rainbow every day, because we want them to be aware that color in food plays a part in the health benefits," noted Neeck. "How much? We say, eat five 'fists' a day. It helps children understand portion size. We also talk about what makes foods healthy or not healthy, and tell the story of the Three Sisters -- corn, beans, and squash -- which nourish each other in the ground as soil partners, and nourish the people who eat these crops."

Before the children can start cooking, however, they learn about the importance of washing their hands first. "We do the Glo Germ experiment," explained Neeck. "The kids apply a harmless gel that glows under black light. Then they wash their hands, and put them under the light again to see areas they missed -- around fingernails, in between fingers, and so on. It's fun and lets us reinforce the importance of starting to cook with clean hands."

Kids prepare spaghetti squash with sauce and cheese, pureed winter squash, and roasted winter squash, with the spaghetti squash coming out the clear winner as far as taste goes. They also make fruit parfaits with five colors of fruits, layered with vanilla yogurt and granola, as well as trail mix to take home, along with a "Healthy Me" booklet of recipes and a tracking sheet for eating a rainbow daily.

The Veggie Patch that scouts receive for taking part in the program meets many of the requirements for the "Make It, Eat It, Try It" badge for Brownies and the Cub Scouts' "What's Cooking?" badge.

The program has a fee of $10 per child, which some troop leaders pay for with revenues from cookie or holiday tree sales. Troop leaders can schedule a class by calling Wegmans' consumer affairs department.

Family-owned Wegmans operates 71 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.
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