Chocolate Milk: Healthy Discussions Lead To Healthy ChoicesWed 04 May 2011
Story by Michele Giacomini
What was meant to be a passing factoid about the sugar content of chocolate milk, ended up sparking a huge discussion after lunch one day - led by the 6th grade students at Sunset Ranch Elementary - on making healthy choices about the foods students consume throughout the day… and it didn’t stop there!
By the following day, students were volunteering to spend their Spring Break researching all kinds of topics on health...from the effects of sugar consumption, to what’s in a hot dog. On top of that, they witnessed the immediate results of their discussion on sugary milk when only one 6th grader chose to drink chocolate milk that same day at lunch. Suddenly, the light bulb turned on! The students were seeing the positive effects of educating themselves.
Our students are fortunate; we have a district that promotes healthier eating. Elementary students are offered three drink choices: plain milk, juice and chocolate milk. Of course, now that the 6th graders are educated on the true nutritional value of the latter, they are only choosing the plain milk! Our district also offers a daily salad bar so we discussed our bodies’ need for fruits and vegetables and the students realized that when ordering lunch, they need to take advantage of the healthy choices on offer by putting salad on their plates and eating it first. Furthermore, our district makes a point of helping students broaden their taste buds by offering a “Vegetable of the Month”. This month it was snow peas, the students made a pact to always try the Vegetable of the Month every time they order lunch and many students kept their promise during the next day’s lunch.
Our on-going student-led discussions are not based on boycotting anything. Instead we decided that, realistically, we’ll always be faced with challenges of healthy foods vs. unhealthy, whether at home, at school, or on vacation. Therefore, we really focus on the need to educate ourselves in order to know how to make the healthier choices. Then, students can sit down with their parents and talk about making better eating choices and even fill them in with information that they may not have. We figured if our research unveiled, for example, that granola bars contain more sugar than an apple, then the students could have a rational discussion with their parents and ask, “May I please pack an apple for a snack instead?”
After Spring Break, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would their healthy campaign lose momentum? Would the students really do the research? Would they blow it off? Would they forget? Well, yes. Some did lose interest. But, overwhelmingly, most didn’t…and boy, were their research results amazing! We have learned so much in such a short amount of time, but the students don’t plan to stop there! Many of them have decided to educate our student body and their parents at our upcoming Science Fair with all the knowledge they are gaining.
It’s truly amazing how one little carton of milk has motivated a group of 47 children to commit themselves to a life of healthy choices! This week the students are learning how to read nutrition labels. They are analyzing the different amounts of sugar, trans fats, sodium, fiber and protein in breakfast cereals. At the end of the week, they will have gathered their research, made a model of the amount of sugar in each serving of cereal, and will be determining what their best nutritional choices would be. Next week we plan to study energy drinks, the following week will be prepackaged snack foods and I know it won’t end there. That’s because this group of kids care about making the best choices for their growing bodies and they care about making those choices themselves and it’s this last point that makes the major difference. Because it’s not about someone telling them to pick this or that, it’s about them discovering, on their own, what to eat or what not to eat and, most importantly, why.
About the author: Michele Giacomini is a 6th Grade Teacher at Sunset Ranch Elementary, Rocklin, California, owner of a Everything Under the Sun Aquatics & Fitness programs, Zumba instructor and former reporter/Lifestyle Editor
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