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North Marin Cooking Program Teaches Kids To Eat Healthy

MARIN COUNTY (CBS SF) -- The CDC reports childhood obesity affects about 13.7 million children and adolescents nationwide. This week's Jefferson Award winner saw children in his community struggle with healthy eating, so he made it his mission to help them develop better eating and cooking habits.

Young budding chefs at North Marin Community Services Center are learning how to prepare healthy meals. On the menu, it's turkey tacos with homemade salsa. The ingredients are healthy and fresh, leaving students like 8 year Daphne impressed.

"Avocado, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, garlic, carrots and sweet potatoes," said Daphne as she enthusiastically listed the salsa fixings she and others were working with.

The class Daphne loves is part of a program called Kids Cooking for Life. It's founder, Ted Smith, now 94 years old, started the non-profit more than a decade ago as a way to help young people learn about good nutrition.

"It's life. It's longevity," explained Smith. "Kids who eat healthy, people who eat healthy live longer. So we really are anti sugar, anti-candy."

Smith, a former restaurant owner, grew up on a farm and says he learned to love fresh food at an early age.

"I picked tomatoes. I picked strawberries right alongside all the other workers," recalled Smith. "I got 64 cents one day for 32 quarts of strawberries. I still remember it."

Kids Cooking for Life serves around 300 kids weekly, a dozen or so instructors oversee about 18 weekly classes in three sessions during the school year and summer break. Funding comes from private donations, grants and fees for service.

Community partners like the North Marin Community Services Center host the classes where children prepare their own healthy meals. Center program director Ruthie Reader likes dropping in on the class to sample what the student chefs have prepared.

"Everyone seems super engaged, everyone seems focused, and they always seem to be having a lot of fun," said Reader. "It's a win-win."

Students like 13 year old Max take home healthy recipes at the end of every class.

"It's a lot of great vegetables that you can eat," said Max. "And we cook a lot of great stuff all the time."

Smith believes he's making a difference in the lives of Bay Area kids.

"It makes me feel like I am doing the right thing," said Smith. "I am happy that I am doing it and maybe that's what kept me alive for 94 years. I am satisfied that I am doing something that is worthwhile."

So for helping school children learn to cook and eat healthy foods.. this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Ted Smith.

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