Bellingham’s ‘The Real Food Show’ uses comedy to teach kids about eating, living healthy

In the gym at Parkview Elementary School, children giggle as “Frank” tries to corral “Beans,” who’s zipping around him every which way after eating sugary foods for breakfast.

Clowning aside, the students are there Wednesday, May 27, for a serious lesson about eating healthy and being active in a 35-minute presentation titled “The Real Food Show,” which was produced and developed by the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham.

This lesson comes with bad jokes that the students love, juggling — from eggs to bowling balls — singing, goofiness, unicycle riding, slapstick, balancing acts, and even time and space travel.

All courtesy of Frank and Beans, the characters played by Jason Quick and Della Plaster of the Bellingham Circus Guild.

Using humor, the duo teach the kids about reading labels to find out what’s actually in their food and the importance of eating a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins. And that means avoiding some breakfast cereals and other things sugary.

“Since pop is so full of sugar, what do we drink instead?” Plaster asked the students at one point.

“Water!” they yelled in reply.

A total of 9,286 elementary school children in Whatcom and Skagit counties, as well as the city of Olympia, have seen the show since its start in 2014, thanks to the effort of Karl Meyer, the outreach coordinator for the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, who came up with the idea of teaching kids about food by making them laugh.

“Learning while something fun is going on makes it easy to learn,” Meyer said. “It’s edutainment. I’ve seen the show so many times now I enjoy watching the kids. At that age they’re such a sponge for knowledge and learning, and being in the moment with it.”

In addition to Meyer, “The Real Food Show” was written and polished by Sam Williams, also known as “Smerdyakov” of Flying Karamazov Brothers fame, Plaster and Quick.

Schools haven’t had to pay for the show since its pilot in 2014; the Bellingham food co-op has footed the bill for the presentations in Whatcom County. Local co-ops did the same in Skagit County and Olympia.

Meyer said he’d like to see that model repeat itself all over.

“My goal for ‘The Real Food Show’ is to get the show in front of as many elementary school kids as possible,” he said. “This show can be a catalyst for the children in our communities to embrace the importance of real food and a healthy lifestyle in a fun, entertaining and impactful way.”

The youngsters continue their education, and possibly their family’s, when they leave. Each child is sent home with a place mat that has nutritional information, games and jokes.

The show is part of the Bellingham co-op’s commitment to educating the community, according to Meyer.

“We do things for adults in the community,” he said, referring in part to the co-op’s cooking and health classes.

He added: “It’s so crazy right now with the media messages the kids are getting. I felt like kids need to see how real food is so important.”

Wednesday’s show at Parkview dovetailed with other programs that have been teaching students about food and being healthy, including growhappykids.org from WSU Extension Food $ense and Whatcom Farm-to-School, which helps schools introduce fresh, healthy and local foods into meals and snacks.

Mardi Solomon, co-coordinator for the Whatcom Farm-to-School support team, is a fan of “The Real Food Show.”

“They’re all the kinds of messages we want kids to get about healthy eating but they’re delivered in such a fun way,” Solomon said. “I think ‘The Real Food Show’ grabs a lot of kids because of how the message is delivered.”

She sees it as another way of reaching children.

Some learn about healthy eating through presentations in classrooms, others through the school garden or by eating local foods, and still others by watching Frank and Beans play, Solomon explained.

She praised the co-op for producing and sponsoring the show.

“We’re united in our efforts to try to promote healthy eating in the community,” Solomon said.

Melinda Ashbaugh, a Food $ense educator who saw the show for the first time Wednesday, praised it for being engaging.

“They did a great job,” Ashbaugh said. “It’s important information and especially important at a young age. It’s so much to easier to develop healthy habits than to change unhealthy habits. Getting that information when they’re younger is pivotal.”