Preschool program gives kids an interactive experience with fruits and veggies

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9 out of 10 children do not consume enough fruits and vegetables. Considering these foods are nutritional powerhouses that are key in the health of a developing child, one pediatrician has set out to change that. Dr. Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure was created specifically to help children gain an appreciation for fruits and veggies and get them to increase their intake of them at school and at home.

“Many children are not exposed to a lot of fruits and vegetables, and many parents don’t have the information on how to cultivate an appreciation for them,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “If we can reach children at the preschool age and help them develop a good relationship with these foods it can benefit them for the rest of their life.”

Dr. Fernando, along with Melanie Potock, a world-renowned speech language pathologist specializing in pediatric feeding, developed the Dr. Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure. The unique specialized curriculum was piloted in a variety of early childhood centers in Central Virginia and is currently being used in over 40 classrooms and with over 600 preschoolers in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The interactive curriculum has been designed to introduce preschoolers to the joy of eating fruits and vegetables and uses a multi-sensory experience to help make that happen.

Through the use fun characters used in the curriculum, Dr. Yum, Coach Mel and My Munch Bug, there are 18 lessons that can be used over a period of two years. The lessons are each presented by the preschool teacher once a month. Each lesson introduces children to a fruit or vegetable, its nutritional benefits, and guides them in preparing a sample snack using that particular item. This way they get a hands-on experience, are able to try the food they are learning about, and will have a positive connection with it that will last for years to come.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year advertising to the youth market, and that children are exposed to around 40,000 commercials per year. A good portion of those commercials are for unhealthy foods, such as sugar cereals, treats, and fast food. The CDC recommends that childcare centers make an effort to provide children with hands on experiences and learning opportunities regarding fruits and vegetables. Some of the benefits of using the Dr. Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure program include:

  • The fun characters that will help to get children’s attention and keep them interested in the curriculum.
  • The life skills they will be gaining by learning how to prepare a snack with the food. Additionally, the lessons have been designed to include using such skills as language, fine motor, and numbers.
  • Drawing from Montessori style teaching methods, students are exposed to the information through a practical life lesson that they can re-create at home.
  • Reaching many children who may not get routinely exposed to fruits and vegetables at home. The CDC reports that 60 million children in the U.S. are enrolled in childcare or school, where their experiences with food can have an impact on their health, as well as their lifelong food choices.

“Based on the data we have collected, we are seeing a great response to this program by the preschools already using it,” added Heidi DiEugenio, director of the Doctor Yum Project. “Starting in the 2019-20 school year we want to get as many preschools using it as possible, so we can reach more kids and help lay the foundation for a healthy life. Fruits and vegetables play an important role in that and the younger we can make a positive connection the better.”

Dr. Fernando and Melanie Potock will be presenting the findings from a two year survey of teachers and parents lead by Dr. Nancy Zucker of Duke University about the impact that the curriculum is making in attitudes and eating behaviors at home and school. They will present at national meetings of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Orlando and American Speech Hearing Association in Boston, both in November 2018. Dr. Fernando created The Doctor Yum Project, an organization with the mission of transforming the lives of families and communities by providing an understanding of the connection between food and overall health, as well as empowering them with the tools to live a healthy life. The project offers healthy cooking classes, child nutrition classes, cooking camps for kids, hands-on cooking instruction for families, first foods classes, a teaching garden, and online tools to help families make healthier meals

Dr. Fernando, otherwise known as Dr. Yum, is a board-certified pediatrician. She and Melanie Potock are also the co-authors of the book “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook”. To learn more about the Dr. Yum Preschool Food Adventure, visit the site at: If your school is interested in using Dr. Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure curriculum for the 2019-20 school year please contact the Dr. Yum Project.

Founded by Dr. Nimali Fernando, The Doctor Yum Project is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to transforming the lives of families and communities by providing an understanding of the connection between food and overall health, as well as empowering them with the tools to live a healthy life. They offer a variety of community programs to help with those efforts. They are located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and feature an instructional kitchen and teaching garden for holding classes. To learn more, visit the site at: .