MARYSVILLE — Aidan Corey-Wollaston, a first-grade student at Kellogg Marsh Elementary, appraised the date in his hand cautiously before taking a bite of the unfamiliar fruit.
“Wow, this is really good,” he said after sampling his first taste, his eyes popping wide.
His classmate Alexi Looper was even more skeptical of the pickled plums in front of her, and while she worked up the nerve to try them out, she found they weren’t as much to her liking.
“They’re really salty,” she said as her face twisted into a grimace.
Not every new food that the kids sampled, as part of Molina Healthcare’s visit to read “My Whole Food ABCs” to Mindy Gray’s first-grade classroom at Kellogg Marsh on Jan. 23, was to their tastes, but most of the healthy snacks suited them just fine.
Anastasia Garcia, community outreach coordinator for Molina Healthcare, arrived with Molina Healthcare’s giant cat mascot, Dr. Cleo, who hosted “Dr. Cleo’s Reading Club,” during which Garcia read “My Whole Food ABCs” by David Richard, an alphabet of health food choices whose names Garcia translated into Russian and Spanish for the kids.
“I think the lesson kids learned about the benefits of whole foods was to try new things, because you never know, you might like them,” Gray said, after Garcia had finished reading and handed out sample plates of dates, pears, honey, wheat snacks, umeboshi pickled plums and oranges to the kids. “Hopefully, they had conversations at home with their parents about this idea.”
Gray praised Molina Healthcare for its community outreach, which she believes has helped broaden her students’ horizons.
“Most of them were very open to trying the foods that were brought in,” Gray said. “I saw many of them sampling bites of things they had never eaten before. Even if they were unsure, they still tried some bites.”
Gray likewise commended Garcia for tying group reading into the promotion of healthy lifestyles, as well as for seeking to include other cultures in the discussion.
“She asked students about their home languages and gave them all a chance to share their background knowledge and experiences,” Gray said.
The Molina Foundation’s Book Buddies program allowed all the students to take home their own copies of “My Whole Food ABCs,” in addition to furnishing the school with a grant for other age-appropriate books.
Greg Smith, director of community outreach for Molina Healthcare, explained that Kellogg Marsh Elementary was the first school in Snohomish County that “Dr. Cleo’s Reading Club” visited.
“We focus many of our efforts on underserved and lower-income families,” Smith said. “Our members are on Medicaid and many of them have children. At the same time, we’re aiming to reach a broader audience with this. We can get a meaningful message out in an engaging way. I’m always impressed by how willing kids are to sample something they haven’t tried before, and watching their reactions is so cool.”
“It offers nourishment to the minds and bodies of these young learners,” Gray said.