MOTT HAVEN — A new pre-kindergarten initiative focused on healthy eating has arrived in The Bronx, but this one is aimed at getting entire families, not just kids, to start living healthier.
At the beginning of the school year, the Children's Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) expanded its pre-K health and literacy program, called an "early learning hub," to the East Side House Settlement Early Learning Center and Head Start facility at 375 East 143rd St.
The program, which began in 2013 in East Harlem, takes place in Mott Haven on Wednesday afternoons for about two to three hours, and children and their families participate by being enrolled in the early childhood programs at East Side House.
The purpose of including parents in the program is to make sure that lessons children learn while at East Side House are reinforced after they leave school.
"If you don't involve the parents, you lose the children," said East Side House Associate Executive Director Josué Rodriguez. "It's really as simple as that."
CMOM's program uses a curriculum developed with the National Institutes of Health called EatPlayGrow, which focuses on topics like portion control, counting and categorizing fruits and substituting fat-free milk or water for sugary beverages.
So far, families at East Side House have learned about how to shop for better food, how to plan menus and how to cook new and healthy foods.
"Our parents now, and our children, eat hummus," said Vernell Reed, director of early childhood programs at East Side House. "And they make it."
The museum's learning model also consists of online resources like music videos and family festivals to help teach parents about the role they play in their child’s development.
CMOM’s emphasis on using its program to teach the whole family about healthy eating as opposed to just pre-kindergartners helps set it apart from other city health initiatives, according to Andrew Ackerman, executive director of the museum.
CMOM expanded its initiative in East Harlem last month, opening six new learning hubs, and it plans to develop hubs in Brooklyn and Queens as well.
Aidee Ariza, who participates in the Mott Haven program with her 3-year-old daughter Valerie and 5-year-old son Yonathan, said she appreciates that the initiative has given her family an opportunity to learn about making healthier meals, such as a pasta dish with tomatoes and olive oil that her children love.
"I like it because it keeps my children busy," she said, speaking through a translator. "While they're busy here with me, they're learning something new."