Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest: Karen Leonetti
Guest Bio: Karen Leonetti holds child development associate and child development specialist degrees. An educator for 20 years, she ran the only 100 percent green, organic school in Florida for 17 years. She has extensively researched healing through diet and alternative therapies. Her children’s book, Yummy, tummy, Rainbow Garden is designed to get kids excited about healthy foods.
Karen Leonetti talks about her system that teaches children to eat healthy from childhood and to understand the importance of a healthy diet into adulthood. Also discussed are a few ways that physicians can be more in tune with children when it comes to nutrition.
Health Professional Radio – Eating Healthy At An Early Age
Neal Howard: Hello, you’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host, Neal Howard.
Our guest in studio today is Karen Leonetti. She’s a teacher and an author. She’s the author of Yummy Tummy Rainbow Garden. She’s here today with us to talk about how she discovered that getting the kids away from the electronics, and time management, coupled with healthy eating habits, fosters better health throughout the child’s development, and on into adulthood. How are you doing today, Karen?
Karen Leonetti: I’m wonderful. Thank you, Neal.
Neal: Great. Now, your book Yummy Tummy Rainbow Garden, it’s a fun book, it’s colourful, it’s geared toward the early development of children. It’s geared toward getting them to understand the importance of eating healthy. Now, I understand that your book is plant-based as far as diet. Do you consider the book a vegan book, or a vegetarian book?
Karen: Well, I believe it’s maybe a flexitarian book.
Neal: Flexitarian. I like that.
Karen: Yes. It’s good for everybody. I don’t like to do 100% of anything. I don’t think that that’s healthy. I think with children, it’s great to really … you certainly have to honour your family values and things like that, whatever they believe in. But it’s good to be flexible, to have some flexibility and some wiggle room, and things like that. I do believe it is a flexitarian book designed as a plant-based book.
I will be, hopefully, writing a second book, meaning it would be like a good fats book, with the fruits and vegetables that would help us, and cocoa oil, and things like that, because we do need the good fats for brain development. I believe it’s definitely a plant-based book, great to support all families.
Neal: Now, in our society, with all of the nuggets, and the patties, and the fingers … I’ve never seen a chicken with a finger, and I really don’t want to know where the nugget comes from in a chicken, so anyway … [laughter]
You talked about planting seeds and teaching the kids how to grow food. Do you also talk about where foods come from? Different foods come from different places. You got plants, you got bushes, you got trees, stalks, vines. Do you delve into where the food actually comes from? Because most of the time, kids, when they see it, they have … it’s an apple or it’s a blueberry. They don’t know where the blackberries come from.
Karen: Yeah. Well, that’s a great question. I have one whole page dedicated to that. My illustrator, Lee Libro, has done a fabulous job illustrating, because that was important to me. A lot of children, as you say, might get that apple on their tray, or might have something that they can eat that’s fresh from the farmers’ market, things like that. But they don’t see the source, they don’t see the way it’s grown.
So I do have a whole page for that, and it shows falling strawberries, and blueberries hanging on bushes, and bananas hanging upside down from trees. It’s very important.
I’m not a big believer at all in hiding food. I think that the best scenario would be going and planting seeds – getting some organic seeds from a local source, it’s always best to buy local – and then planting local … some little spinach seeds. Then watching them grow, harvesting them, eating them raw, putting them in a salad.
The next day, maybe steaming, and then after you’ve steamed them, if you have some leftovers, then maybe you could put them in some brownies or something. But I really feel like we’re doing a huge disservice to children by not letting them see the food. Because I’m just flash-forwarding 20 years – they’re going to grow up and they’re going to be in a grocery store and say, “What is this? I’ve never seen this before?”
I have a picture on my Facebook of a lovely little girl named Ruby, and she was in the grocery store, and she’s a friend of mine, her mama. She was dropping these beautiful organic strawberries accidentally on the floor. I said, “Here, let’s taste this corn!” I asked the grocer, I said, “Is this GMO?” [laughs]
Her mama said, “She won’t eat corn.” I said, “Don’t say that out loud.” [laughter] So I had her take part of the husk, and I took one part, we ripped one down, then the other. We took turns and made it a game.
And I said, “I bet you can’t take a bite!” She took one little bite. I said, “I bet you can’t do it again.” Well, she ended up eating that whole ear of corn, went up to checkout, and she said, “I ate this. I need to pay for it.” [laughter] It’s just a beautiful experience, a beautiful, hands-on experience for children.
Neal: Now, you’ve been dealing with children for over 20 years. You did run the only 100% green, organic school in Florida. I understand you are in North Carolina now. Having dealt with children for so many years … paediatricians have to deal with them as well. I’m under the impression that doctors don’t get a lot of training as far as nutrition goes. In your experience, have you found that paediatricians – are they more in tune with nutrition than, say, general practitioners that deal with adults, basically?
Karen: Well, I think they’re more in tune with children in general. I would love to go into a paediatrician’s office and see a non-overweight paediatrician with maybe some wonderful pictures of fruits and vegetables on the wall, and maybe a copy of Yummy Tummy Rainbow Garden in the waiting room. Also, staff who wasn’t obese.
I understand that people have different issues for different reasons, but to have maybe some pictures of people running or exercising – it would just be great – because these are all little snapshots for children. It is indeed, like you say, elective. Nutrition is an elective, and it’s just amazing to me that that’s true.
But there are a lot of paediatricians and doctors that do … they wouldn’t be in the childcare field if they didn’t … taking care of children, if they didn’t care about that age group. I would imagine it’d be more maybe [inaudible 06:34] maybe laser-pointed into that.
That’s another reason why my book is helpful, because it’s done the education for the parent, and for the doctor, that could just say, “Hey! Here’s this wonderful book. You could read about the yummy foods that come from the garden.” Period. That would be all the nutrition that doctor would have to say, and then have my books available, or something like that. That would be a wonderful world. [laughs]
Neal: Right. Now, your book Yummy Tummy Rainbow Garden: Teaching Children of All Ages to Eat Well, where is it available? Where can our listeners grab a copy of that?
Karen: Well, I have them. I can give you an autographed and personally inscribed book if you contact my email, which is [email protected] I just encourage people – if families do want to have a copy, to get it inscribed, because children do like to see their name in the book, and it makes it more personalised, so they own it. I could certainly do that if they contact me directly, and send it off to them.
Neal: Absolutely, excellent. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host, Neal Howard. It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk with Karen Leonetti this afternoon. She’s a child development specialist. She and her husband have developedYummy Tummy Rainbow Garden, Teaching Children of All Ages to Eat Well.
We’ve been in here talking today about some of the helpful aspects of her book, and talking about how physicians can be more in tune with children, and teach them and encourage them to eat better as they grow.
It’s been great having you here with us today, Karen.
Karen: Thank you so much, Neal.
Neal: Thank you. Transcripts of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au, and also at hpr.fm.