Arencibia helps teach kids about healthy eating

Blue Jays catcher visits Grade 2 class with mascot, nutritionist

TORONTO -- It was more than a typical school day for a Grade 2 class at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Toronto on Thursday.

Catcher J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays mascot ACE and nutritionist Jenn Sygo all made an appearance to provide a lesson on nutrition and the value of eating healthy.

"As a dietician, I can only say what the athletes are doing. To hear the athlete himself talk about their favorite foods and the different food that fuels them -- it's awesome," Sygo said. "They'll never forget that."

Before the trio arrived, Kevin Chase's Grade 2 students prepared questions for the Blue Jays' power-hitting backstop and helped themselves to a small plate of fruits and vegetables, although the class was a little distracted by who would walk through the door next.

Arencibia led the way, closely followed by ACE, and after some boisterous cheering and a round of high-fives, the children returned to their seats and the lesson began.

Toronto's 2007 Draft pick sat in an undersized chair, one that was clearly meant for the students, and he explained to them the importance of putting the right food in your body. The charismatic catcher, sitting slightly uncomfortably, used an analogy of a car needing gas to teach the children this lesson.

That's something, admittedly, he learned later in life.

"I really wasn't into that stuff as a kid," Arencibia said. "But if you can influence them to make better choices, it's definitely a big plus

"So I think if they learn it at a young age, hopefully it's impactful."

A part of Thursday's lesson for the youngsters was an introduction to Canada's Food Guide and the different food groups, and they were given a pair of hands-on exercises to help visualize what was nutritious and healthy.

The students at OLPH were given a food item and a piece of paper that had five sections -- the four food groups and "other" -- and were told to place the item in the appropriate box.

Another exercise had the children choosing among four different beverages which one was the healthiest and best for them. Water was the unanimous, and correct, choice.

"We want kids to choose fewer sugary processed foods, and I almost always try to emphasize that we want kids to drink a little bit more plain water," said Sygo, a nutritionist for almost a decade.

"We know that over the last 20 to 30 years kids have greatly accelerated their consumption of sugary drinks, and it seems to be one of the biggest precursors of obesity, so we really want to curb that."

For Arencibia, it's a message that he believes is aided by the fact that it's coming from a professional athlete.

"I know if I was one of those kids and if anyone would have come to my school [when I was their age], especially being a baseball player, I would have been beyond myself excited," Arencibia said.

"It's never the same hearing it from Mom and Dad or a teacher, but hearing it from a pro athlete that it matters what you put in your body, that goes a long way," added Sygo.

The 27-year-old Miami native, still sitting in the small chair, also helped the students with their exercise, answered questions and took some pictures before the visit had to come to an end.

The kids clearly enjoyed it, and Arencibia was just thankful to be a part of it.

"We have an opportunity to make impacts [because of] our career," Arencibia said. "I'm fortunate to do what I do for a living, and I'm fortunate to play for a city, a province and a country. So to be able to go out there and give back to the people that give me the opportunity to do my job is important."

Evan Peaslee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.