New food bike provides Lexington kids with healthier options

tharrison@herald-leader.comJune 23, 2013 

For kids who want a healthier on-the-go snack than the ice cream truck has to offer, there's now a food bike in Lexington that will come to them.

The Better Bites Good to Go Bike travels around offering healthy food options, such as fresh vegetables, fruit and granola bars, among other things.

Anita Courtney, registered dietitian and chairperson of the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition, said the food bike was the first of its kind in Lexington.

"We're saying it's like the ice cream truck, only better," Courtney said.

Everything offered on the bike costs $1, to make sure the snacks are affordable. If kids don't have $1, Courtney said, Better Bites bucks are available, which serve as vouchers to get snacks.

The bike is the newest step in the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition's Better Bites program, which encourages kids to eat healthy and has helped get healthier food options at public pools, schools, restaurants and other places.

"It's to draw attention in a fun way to healthy snacking," Courtney said. "We've surrounded kids with junk food in their culture. It's just their world."

When the Good to Go Bike, which debuted last week, goes to camps, parks, schools or pools, popular music is played from an iPod, and hula hoops and jump ropes are provided for the children to play with.

On Thursday, the bike pulled up at Lexington Traditional Magnet School, and the kids there danced to the music and jumped right in to use the equipment.

Amber Smith, who rides the bike and recently earned a master's degree in public health, greeted the kids at LTMS and explained what they could buy. A few other workers came along to help take money and hand out food.

Smith said she had been involved with the Better Bites program for a little more than a year.

"I really believe in the mission behind it, especially being able to provide healthy food to people who maybe just don't have the access to it," she said.

Smith. 28, said she thinks its important to target communities — not just individuals — when it comes to healthy eating, and to do it in an interesting way.

"Nutrition needs to be fun," she said.

The desire to make it fun for kids is why she was interested in operating the bike and participating in the program. Smith went through a training course but said it's not difficult to maneuver the bike.

The children at LTMS all seemed to agree that the bike was fun, shouting excitedly when they heard about the food options they had and screaming that they were hungry.

Amaya Ross, 12, said she was surprised to see that the bike offered cheap snacks. She said eating healthier typically costs more. And when you go to the store and see how much cheaper chips are than grapes, it's easier to get the unhealthy snacks.

"It's really cheap, and they give you a good-sized portion of the food," she said.

Keshaun Wright, 15, had hummus with pretzels and really liked it. She said it was nice that the bike came, because the kids usually eat junk food.

"I thought it was very helpful," Keshaun said. "It was kind of great."

While the bike and healthy eating initiative is geared toward children, Courtney said, they also hope to get adults involved in healthy eating.

"Since adults are such strong influences on kids, we want them to be on board with this, too, and to be able to stop and get a quick, healthy snack for $1, and to start to be role models for the kids," she said.

Courtney said she was most excited to get the bike out more "to make healthy eating visible and fun and accessible and affordable, and to start to have more of a presence in kids' lives."

While it might seem like it would be a struggle to get children to choose healthy food, Courtney said that isn't how she sees it.

"It's my experience, if the food is well prepared and offered to kids, that most of them eat it and enjoy it," she said.

There is only one food bike now, and Courtney said it's too soon to tell whether the program would expand. She said the hope is that the program could be replicated in other parts of the state, and she thinks it will be successful.

"I think the community's ready for something a little different," Courtney said.

Taylor Harrison: (859) 231-1324. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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