CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The KEYS 4 HealthyKids and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture have joined forces to serve sweet potatoes to young children in an effort to promote healthy eating habits.

On Tuesday, representatives from both organizations hosted a distribution site on Brooks Street in Charleston to hand out 50 pounds out of the 4,000 pounds of sweet potatoes they received from the Charleston Area Medical Center. The bags were given to its partner child care centers and schools, shelters and area food banks.

Jamie Jeffrey, director of KEYS 4 HealthyKids, said sweet potatoes are higher in fiber and nutrients at a lower calorie cost.

“It’s one of those super foods that we want our young kids to learn how to eat and love,” she told MetroNews. “Our only chance of turning around the obesity epidemic of West Virginia is starting our younger kids on these healthier habits.”

State Department of Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick was also on hand to help load the bags. He agreed with Jeffrey and said it’s important for kids to learn about good nutrition at a young age.

“If you start from the ground up, as the saying goes, deal with those youngsters at an early age, they will understand it and appreciate it a whole lot more,” he said.

The sweet potatoes came from the western part of West Virginia, particularly in Mason County, but Helmick said he was told that they’re able to grow them anywhere in the state.

“What we’re going to do is grow them, do the pilot projects, do the promotion projects that we’re doing here today and then take them to the next level which is commercial to where people in West Virginia can make a living off growing sweet potatoes,” he said.

Recipients who picked up their bags were also given educational materials and cooking recipes.

“Me favorite is spinach and sweet potato tacos. Also, a chicken and sweet potato stew,” Jeffrey said of her favorite dishes they list in their packet. “We have about four different other recipes that incorporate the sweet potato.”

For more information on the program, visit the KEYS 4 HealthyKids website.

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