It wasn’t easy getting Carlos Dunlap to eat his vegetables when he was growing up.

Just ask Diane Ross, Dunlap’s mother and the principal at Goodwin Elementary School in North Charleston.

About 300 students crammed into the cafeteria at Goodwin Elementary on Wednesday afternoon to listen to Dunlap — a defensive end for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals — talk about eating right, exercising, and doing well in school.

Like most mothers, Ross remembers it was a challenge trying to get her son to eat healthy food. It’s a lesson that has finally sunk in for the former Fort Dorchester High School star.

“Carlos is eating much healthier than he did when he was growing up,” said Ross, who has been the principal at Goodwin Elementary for four years. “He’ll try a lot of different things now that he wouldn’t a couple of years ago. I think he finally understands what it means to eat healthier food, especially since he makes his living with his body.”

Dunlap admits it wasn’t until this year, his third season in the NFL, that he finally started to take nutrition seriously. Instead of hitting fast food joints after practice, Dunlap said he hired a professional chef who comes to his house and cooks three “healthy” meals a day. He has lost about eight pounds, but more importantly his body fat dropped by four percent during the season.

“It’s made a big difference,” Dunlap said. “I think it made me a more durable player and I know my conditioning is a lot better than it used to be. I feel like I’m a lot fresher during the game, especially in the fourth quarter.”

His favorite vegetable? “Spinach,” Dunlap responded to a student’s question, which generated several groans from the crowd.

“I wasn’t a big fan of vegetables growing up as my mother will tell you,” Dunlap said. “My mother used to have to force them down me, but now I realize that spinach is good for me and can help me on the football field.”

Dunlap wished someone had told him about nutrition earlier in his life. It wasn’t easy transitioning from a fast food diet to eating healthy.

“If you start at a young age it’ll be that much easier to eat right when you’re older,” Dunlap said. “Once you get older, as I found out, it’s harder to change your bad eating habits. You just can’t lose that weight as easily as you used to. So you want to start good habits as early as you can.”

Dunlap spent about 15 minutes answering questions from the students. The questions ranged from how tall he is (6-6) to his favorite video game (NBA 2K13).

He was also asked how much money he makes playing in the NFL.

“Enough to pay my bills and go to the mall,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap figures spending an afternoon at Goodwin Elementary is the least he can do to help repay his mother for everything she’s done in his life. Dunlap attended Windsor Hill Elementary School growing up.

“It’s not very much, but I want to do anything I can to help support my mother,” Dunlap said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. I know how hard she works here trying to make a difference.”