Less than one year ago, I was an eighth grade teacher. I was a member of a special group, bold and daring enough to venture into the minefield of adolescent hormones. Upon excepting the position of Nutrition Education Director for The High Plains Food Bank, my world opened up to include a much smaller version of the students I knew.
My love of teaching paired with a passion for change and a chance to garden is what led me to The Food Bank, however, in recent months I have come to understand just how important it is to teach children about nutrition. Through the experiences that I have had so far in schools, I have been shocked at some of the answers that I have received from student when asked for examples of fruits and vegetables. My favorite went something like this:
Me: "Can you tell me an example of a redfruit or vegetable?"
Student: "Strawberry milk!"
Now, of course this was a very young student. I believe a first grader. And of course it was insanely cute, made me laugh out loud, and makes for a pretty funny story. And I guess you could even say that he got it half right. However, more than all of that, this tells me that there is a need. If you talk to kids today about what they are eating, especially kids in poverty, you will find very little of what they mention is of any nutritional value to them. During my years teaching, I would say that the most common lunch that I saw eaten consisted of pizza, chips, and "juice" (the quotation marks represent my suspicions as to the actual juice content of the juice).
As I write this, I cannot help but think of how people will respond and my first thoughts are:
"Well, we grew up eating like that."
"When I was young I ate whatever I wanted. They are kids, they'll be fine."
In response I would say something like this:
"I grew up eating like that too. Many of us did. Now we live in the most obese nation in the world. "
The truth of the matter is that kids with bad eating habits more often than not become adults with bad eating habits. It's no secret that childhood obesity is a major issue for our country, and unfortunately childhood obesity usually leads to adult obesity. This is why it is so important to teach nutrition to our children. It is a matter of life and death.
So what's the solution? How do you teach kids about food and nutrition in an educational system that becomes more and more consolidated to core subjects every year? How do you get schools whose funding is determined by test scores to spend less time on reading, writing, and arithmetic and a little more time on health? Well, you don't have to. That is where we come in.
Recently, we conducted a trial at San Jacinto Elementary School where we have a Kids Cafe setup. Over a six weeks period, students were taught about the nutritional benefits of different colored fruits and vegetables. If you didn't already know, red fruits and veggies are good for your heart. First, they were given a blind test, and then each week we presented a different color through Kids Café. San Jacinto runs a heavily populated afterschool program, and we used the time they were given to eat in order to teach them about nutrition. The staff of instructors, servers, and volunteers all made a point to stress the color of the week. After six weeks and six colors, we gave another test and it showed a 13% increase in scores. By no means are these staggering results, but it is an improvement. Over the next few months, we plan to implement a new, slightly tweaked version of the trial at the other Kids Café campuses, and we already have second round planned for San Jacinto.
The good news is that kids are sponges. If you put the information out there, they will soak it up. Guess what the number one influence is on a child's food choices? It's what their parents eat. So do your part to make sure you are eating healthy for your kid's sake, because whether you believe it or not, they are watching.