How the Circus Turned My Picky Eater Into a Food Lover

How The Circus Turned My Picky Eater Into A Food Lover

Wed 12 Mar 2014

Story by Lilea Duran

There is an infamous story in my family about my grandmother struggling to get my uncle to eat his peas at dinner. Knowing he wasn’t allowed to leave the table until his plate was empty, he would swallow each pea with a big gulp of milk like it was a pill. I’ve heard other stories over the years about friends spitting their veggies into napkins or feeding their broccoli to the family dog under the table. One of my biggest concerns as I entered motherhood 2 ½ years ago was how was I going to get my son to not only eat his vegetables, but enjoy eating them as well.

When my son was a little over a year I began working as a hula hoop performer with Vegetable Circus, a non-profit circus organization dedicated to helping communities across America take control of their own health. Developed between 2005 and 2009 by founder Brian Walden in Boston, MA, Vegetable Circus was to be a conduit that brings wellness oriented circus professionals together with children and students. Since launching the Vegetable Circus Enrichment Program in 2010 Vegetable Circus has provided ongoing hands on circus instruction classes in and after school for more than 100 schools nationwide, educating over 20,000 students across the country in 2013 alone. Vegetable Circus now has chapters in Boston, MA; Providence, RI; Raleigh, NC and locations throughout Northern California. Our acclaimed programs are designed to encourage a child’s development in language, sensory motor, fine motor, gross motor, and concept skills through meaningful circus play activities such as juggling, plate spinning, feather balancing, and hula hooping. Mastering these skills enables a child to be confident and excited about learning and using their bodies. Our programs also include fresh fruit and vegetables to be used for artwork or healthy snacks and discussions about making healthy food and drink decisions and how to read nutrition labels, empowering students with the tools needed to play an active role in their own health.

In my eyes Vegetable Circus was a perfect mash up of healthy eating habits and fun physical activity, two topics I not only wanted to promote in my life, but in my son’s and my community’s as well. As I learned the various songs, skits, and games used in Vegetable Circus’ educational assembly shows and after school enrichment programs I quickly realized I was also gaining creative tools to help my family get excited about the foods they were eating.

Vegetable Circus’ “Veggie Stretches” have become a part of my family’s routine. If I forget, my toddler is sure to remind me with a stern, “Maw-mee, its time for strrrretching!” while demonstrating our Banana Stretch. The Vegetable Stretches take concepts from yoga and tai chi and apply imagery of fruits and vegetables, not only encouraging us to keep our bodies moving, but also to discuss the nutritional benefits and how and where our favorite foods are grown.

We also pull from Vegetable Circus’ Food & Games curriculum to make food art. One of my son’s favorite activities is taking slices of apple, bell pepper, or okra dipping them in paint and stamping the fruits and vegetables on a piece of paper. Activities like this help us develop motor skills, communication, and creativity while playing and bonding together.

Laying the foundation of healthy food and fun exercise breaks down the stigma of these activities being intimidating and appearing even a little icky and allows children to be excited and engaged about health education. There are a variety of family friendly recipes on the Food Revolution site and I encourage you to register for the Vegetable Circus monthly newsletter where we include a monthly activity or recipe to get you and your child in the kitchen and invite you to play with your food.

Meet the Author: Lilea Duran, also known as “Pepper” on stage, is the California Regional Director of Vegetable Circus and an accomplished performer specializing in hula hoops. When she isn’t dancing inside her hoops you’ll find her preparing fresh, healthy foods for friends and family or in her family’s backyard garden. Lilea lives in Napa, California with her husband, son Paxton, and is expecting her second child this April. Stay in touch: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn


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