by Len Lear
When I was a kid in elementary school many years ago, it seemed as if there was just one fat boy and one fat girl in every class. I thought maybe there was some kind of federal quota system that mandated these two significantly overweight kids in every classroom in order to receive federal funding.
Tragically, since then childhood obesity has become a national epidemic, with as many as a quarter to a third of all American children significantly overweight (according to numerous studies), thanks to an abundance of junk food and lack of exercise, aided by a virtual addiction to electronic devices. Chestnut Hill author Kimmell Proctor, however, is actually doing something to turn the tables (so to speak) on this epidemic.
Proctor and fellow Hill area mom and health-eating advocate, Kim Bynum, will share their strategies for getting children to eat healthy at a collaborative kids’ event on Saturday, Feb. 21, 1 p.m., at Green Soul, 8229 Germantown Avenue (at The Fareway). Author, teacher and dietary coach Proctor will be reading her children’s book on the subject, “Prince Peter Eats The Sun.” The event is free and will include a sampling of healthy snacks.
Proctor, 43, who is the picture of fitness, is a health coach for kids, teens and families. She is contracted by many area schools and youth organizations, such as scout groups, to lead fun wellness workshops, present hands-on health and nutrition programs and teach after-school cooking lessons. She also consults with schools and parent groups about how to create effective school-wide wellness policies and how to source more fresh, local and sustainable foods in the cafeteria. Her daughter, Page, 14, is an 8th grader at Penn Charter, and her son, Harris, 11, is a 5th grader at AIM Academy in Conshohocken. (Kimmell’s unusual first name came from her great-grandmother, whose maiden name was Kimmell.)
The Hill mom was born in Virginia, but her father was in the Navy, so she moved every few years. She admits that as a teenager, she had no particular interest in nutrition and healthy eating habits. “I grew up eating the standard American diet,” she said, “unaware of the integral link between food and health. It wasn’t until I lived in Scandinavia for a few years as an adult and experienced their healthy lifestyle of eating mostly fresh, home cooked meals that I began to appreciate the value of eating a clean diet free of processed, chemical-laden foods. I became fascinated by how much more energy and clarity I had and decided to attend nutrition school to explore this food-mood connection.”
Kimmell earned an undergraduate degree in International Relations from the University of Virginia in 1993. Now known as the “Good Eats Teach,” she received her Masters of Teaching at UVA in 1994 and completed her holistic health studies at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She is now a board-certified health coach. She began her career as a classroom teacher and then went into museum education. While working as Associate Education Director at the Delaware Children’s Museum, she developed a health science outreach program featuring a 9-foot tall teaching doll donated to the museum by the A. I. DuPont/Nemours Children’s Hospital. His chest unzipped to reveal plush internal organs that children could touch. Students would “feed” him and then be able to experience the food’s journey through his digestive system.
“When I moved to Philadelphia,” she explained, “and started my business, Good Eats Teach, I created a similar doll to be a resource in my own school wellness programs. My doll, ‘Peter the Eater,’ is 5 feet tall, the size of an average 12-year-old kid, and he features not only plush internal organs but also an interactive brain to help kids make the food-body-mind connection in a tangible and effective way.”
How do kids normally respond to the life-size doll? “Sometimes kids will react with uncertainty when they hear that they’ll be seeing and touching Peter’s insides. So I remind children that these are the body parts that keep us strong and healthy, and it’s a unique opportunity to explore them without having to go to the doctor’s office and get an X-ray. When Peter’s digestive organs are revealed, instead of ‘ew,’ they react with ‘ooooh, ahh!’ By the end of the program, all of the kids want a turn to explore Peter’s ‘guts.’”
As a former first grade teacher, Proctor had searched without luck for a fun, non-preachy story around the concept of eating fresh, unrefined foods, so she decided to write one herself. The look of Prince Peter, the main character of her foodie fairy tale, is based on her teaching doll so that she could easily integrate the two resources in her programs.
It took about nine months for Kimmell to “give birth” to her book, “Prince Peter Eats the Sun,” which she calls “a foodie fairy tale to enchant all ages.” Young readers can follow the Prince on his royal journey as he solves the mystery of what it means to eat the sun. The picture book offers food-conscious families a resource about the power of eating well and includes suggested recipes for families to “eat the sun at home!” The recently released book is self-published for now, although it is currently being reviewed by Random House for potential mainstream publication. The enchanting artwork in the book was created by Lauren Filius, a local graphic artist who attended the Tyler School of Art at Temple and lives in Glenside.
But how can parents withstand or combat the ubiquitous pull of junk food for their kids? “It’s a challenge!” Proctor conceded. “The fast food industry spends over $5 million per day marketing to kids. Parents can be aware and have direct conversations with children about the harmful effects of junk food on their growing bodies. Kids look to their parents as role models, so allowing children to be involved in meal preparation can be very motivating. Make fruits and veggies appealing by cutting them into fun, bite-sized shapes.
“Hold a family challenge to ‘eat a rainbow’ each day by regularly enjoying produce with a variety of colors and textures. Grow a family herb garden in your windowsill. Take kids shopping and teach them to look for real foods that were grown in the earth and that nourish their bodies and minds. Show older children how to be ‘label detectives’ and to avoid products with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients. And read stories such as ‘Prince Peter Eats the Sun’ about where food comes from, who grows it, and why it’s so important.”
Proctor, who is currently working on two more children’s stories featuring the characters from Prince Peter, believes that Chestnut Hill is an ideal location for parents seeking a healthy lifestyle for their children. “I most enjoy hiking the Wissahickon trails with my children,” she said, “and having so many choices to shop for locally sourced food within walking distance of my home. Between the farmers’ markets and the co-op, I can find fresh, quality produce that’s seasonal and affordable all year round.”
More information about the Feb. 21 event at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-242-2300. For a free downloadable packet of healthy-eating at-home activities and classroom curriculum, visit www.GoodEatsTeach.com.