Combining fun, literacy and health awareness, the Junior League of Santa Barbara had kids making food, eating well, and making nutritious choices last Thursday at the League’s second “Kids in the Kitchen” event, held at the Eastside Library.

“It was great because we were able to teach literacy, which is our main goal, and reach out to kids who were more lower-income, to teach them about making good food choices,” said Dianne Duva, president of the volunteer group. According to recent statistics, there is a correlation between lower-income families and childhood obesity. Families with less money tend to eat more fast food because it’s less expensive, but the choices most fast food restaurants offer tend to be less nutritious and more fattening. Santa Barbara’s large Latino population, with its genetic predisposition towards diabetes, combined with culturally influenced dietary choices, also makes it more necessary for our younger population to be aware of how and what to eat before obesity complicates their lives. Approximately 25 percent of children in the United States are overweight or obese, and the statistic is rising.

“It’s been an epidemic for years,” Duva said.

The 150 participants, from Franklin Elementary School, participated in various activities, said Duva. Different stations taught the youngsters the value of good nutrition, and ways to choose the healthiest combinations of food. Storytime was vegetable-themed.

The hands-on activities had kids using arts and crafts to put together a well-balanced “meal.” Another station had them making (and eating) their own turkey wraps. Juice chain Blenders in the Grass contributed 3-ounce smoothies for the kids to sip on while they were given information they could use to make healthy choices in the future.

Was it a success?

“One of the kids came up and said, ‘This is the best day of my life,’” said Duva. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

For information on the Junior Leagues’ “Kids in the Kitchen” program, check out their website, where you can find recipes kids can make, and other resources to teach children how to avoid obesity and live healthy lives.