MARIETTA - It took more than a Marietta Family YMCA program on the importance of nutrition and exercise to get Williamstown resident Emma Gibson to give squash another try.
"A couple of my friends dared me to try it," said Gibson, 8.
And once she did, Gibson said she liked the vegetable, at least the way it was prepared for a vegetable and fruit tasting Monday as part of the Y's new Fit Kids program.
Fellow Williamstown resident Aiden Fife, 7, had a similar experience with spinach.
"I had it before, but I didn't like it," she said. "I put some ranch on it, and I took a bite of it, and it tasted good to my taste buds."
Getting children to learn not only ways to live a healthy lifestyle but also understand why it's important is the goal of the Fit Kids program, and having participants try fruits and vegetables is just one of the ways the Y staff goes about it - although not necessarily the most popular.
"Our first tasting, there were a lot of kids that were not necessarily pleased with the day's events," said Chelsea Laswell, wellness director at the Y. "It ended up working out pretty well."
As part of the program, children also learn about and try different types of exercise, learn about food topics like portion size and help cook food at the Levee House Cafe and get out and about at the River City Farmers Market and the Broughton Nature and Wildlife Education Area.
"We try to make it fun and eventful and do different things," Laswell said.
The program started as a result of a $5,000 grant from the Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund, as well as concern over childhood obesity rates. The Associated Press recently reported obesity affects one in five children nationwide.
The children aren't only told what exercises are good to do or what foods are healthy.
"It's not just like, 'Let's go play basketball or play soccer or do jumping jacks,' but 'Why should we do those things?'" Laswell said. "We're trying to teach them things that they can do for the rest of their lives and things they can teach their families as well."
Participants get a little homework too, as each child receives a pedometer to track their steps at home. There's a prize for the child that takes the most steps.
The Y is looking for children to take part in the final two-week session of the program, scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays from July 23, to Aug. 3. Participation has been low for some of the previous sessions, but staff incorporated the programs into the Y's Camp W.I.L.D. (wellness, imagination, learning, determination) summer camp.