Everyone knows that the average kid’s favorite food is generally not green and reminiscent of a tiny tree. But that could change, if the Muppets have anything to do with it — and they might. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit associated with Sesame Street, is rolling out four new Muppets — a banana, low-fat cheese, a whole wheat bun and a stalk of broccoli — as part of a national initiative to support families who don’t have easy access to nutritious food.
The new Muppets, dubbed the “Superfoods,” make their debut Dec. 8 on Sesame Street in a clip that emphasizes healthy snacks and the importance of eating breakfast and dining together as a family. In the show, Elmo decides to try a new food more than once. What is that food? Does the furry, red icon like it? Tune in to find out. (More on Time.com: Do Parents Discriminate Against Their Own Chubby Children?)
Sesame Workshop is venturing into public-health territory in light of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the recession is exacting a toll on what people eat. Their stats show that 17 million kids in this country —nearly one in four— don’t eat food that meets basic nutritional needs, due to financial instability. More than half of those kids are under the age of six, which is Sesame Street’s target audience.
Six years ago, Sesame Workshop launched its Healthy Habits for Life initiative, urging children — especially preschoolers — to incorporate healthy habits early on. With backing from the Merck Company Foundation and UnitedHealthcare, Sesame Workshop has now zeroed in on at-risk families with Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. They’ve created 400,000 bilingual kids containing a DVD with the new Muppets story and other information about eating right; they plan to distribute the kits with help from partners including the National WIC Association, Feeding America, Head Start and Meals on Wheels. The kits — available online, on iTunes at “Learn Along with Sesame” and on Amazon.com’s video-on-demand (VOD) section — also address parents and caregivers with a discussion of the the social and emotional issues related to “food insecurity,” along with tips on how to stretch a meal from award-winning chef Art Smith. (More on Time.com: Is My Baby Too Fat? Parents Put Babies on Diets)
Although the message targets low-income families, it’s still spot-on for many other families with young children. It can be next to impossible to get finicky little kids to try new foods — and to keep trying them even after the first taste proved less than palatable. Seeing a friendly-looking bunch of broc just might warm a wee one’s heart.
This is not the first time that Muppets have been used to ease kids into an unfamiliar landscape. They’ve broached difficult subjects including grief and the death of a parent, military deployments and lead poisoning. The point this time? That health and well-being are no less critical to child development than mastering the ABCs. (More on Time.com: Weight Watchers’ New Points: Zero for Most Fruits and Veggies)
Alas, the new Muppets aren’t slated to become Sesame Street regulars. “These Muppets are specific for this initiative, but you never know with Sesame Street,” says Jeanette Betancourt, who oversaw the new initiative as senior vice president for outreach and educational practices at Sesame Workshop.
More on Time.com: