Eight students from Union Hill High School's Early Childhood Education Program, along with more than 20 parents who have children in the Early Childhood Learning Center, took a guided tour and nutrition lesson at the Shop-Rite in Columbia Park in North Bergen last week.
"Parents and the teens will get a lesson about how to make their food dollars go farther while at the same time learning how to take advantage of fresh, seasonal foods," said Kathleen Morath of the Union City Day Care Early Childhood Education Program. "They will also learn which foods give their children the best nutritional benefits."
The Union City Day Care Early Childhood Education Program at Union Hill High School is part of the school's career program. Students who graduate from it will get a certificate allowing them to work in a pre-school. The students will also have 12 college credits from Hudson County Community College.
The first half of the program consisted of a lecture and presentation on how to eat according to the food pyramid, how to look at portion sizes and how to make your food dollars stretch.
The second part included a tour led by Nutritionist Colleen Johnson who also taught the group, which foods were the healthiest to buy.
This program was organized as part of the Whole School Reform initiative that encourages parental involvement in the schools.
"I thought that this was one of the programs that parents could use more information on," said Betty Connelly a guidance counselor at Washington School who worked to organize the event.
According to Cheryl Macik of Wakefern Food Corporation, the parent company for ShopRite, Wakefern holds these supermarket tour programs by request for groups.
Students and parents learned the difference between wheat bread and whole wheat bread and the benefits of 2 percent milk rather than whole milk. They also learned how to read labels and choose better snack foods on the tour.
Johnson said that starting children off with healthy habits early is very important.
"If kids grow up on it, that is the way they are going to eat later on," said nutritionist Colleen Johnson. She said that crackers, popcorn and pretzels were better snacks for children than potato chips and cookies.
"These are wonderful nutrition facts," said Morath. "All of the extras she is adding, they wouldn't be able to learn in a book."
Both the parents and the students on the tour said that they will try to use what they have learned.
"I never buy bread," said Sonia Muriel, who has a five-year-old son in the Union City Early Childhood Center. "I thought it was bad. Now I know that I have to."
High school freshman Julissa Castro, who was on this trip, said that now when she goes shopping with her mom, she can make the best choices.
"I do my own shopping," said Esther Rodriguez, a sophomore on the tour, who said that she found out that she doesn't eat very healthily and will change what she buys.
The Rutgers University Cooperative Extension Program provided the lecture and presentation materials for the program. Johnson is a nutritionist with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark.