Eating To Learn At Sherwood Elementary, TexasMon 28 Feb 2011
Story by Jenna Pepper
Eating lunch with my kindergarten son at school one day, I noticed something disturbing. The kids barely ate. Mostly chocolate milk and nibbles of highly-processed factory food made it to their stomachs. My heart was heavy; for a time I avoided the cafeteria. Then, I resolved to use my passion for nourishing kids with real food to help students fuel their brains at lunch.
Eat to Learn is the resulting year-long program I developed for Sherwood Elementary, a Houston area, public, Title 1 School in Spring Branch ISD. Designed to increase students’ consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables served in school lunches, the program engages students and parents through various informative interventions. In order to increase produce consumption, Eat to Learn teaches that healthy food is brain fuel.
Eat to Learn began in October with daily morning announcements featuring one food each week. In January, during the lunch tray evaluation, every student assessed their lunch selections as green for “go”, yellow for “slow” and red for “whoa!” The program involves parents, too, sending monthly food facts home in backpacks and hosting campus functions to educate families about brain food. During our school's family game night, Playnormous, an interactive nutrition education game, was set up in the computer lab for students to play. At our Spring Health Fair students and parents will visit a table with a display food packages containing misleading health claims and deceptive marketing as well as learn how to read an ingredient list to see if what’s advertised on the front of the box is indeed in the box.
In January, the Taste-Off Competition, Eat to Learn’s main event, offered each student at two campuses a novel way taste seven vegetables : celery, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, spinach, pinto beans and broccoli; and two fruits: oranges and pear. The inspiration for the Taste-Off came from a Food Revolution newsletter story about a teacher who gave students a chance to taste food at school competition style. I sought a way to bring this activity to Sherwood Elementary. When I heard about a national PTA grant for Healthy Lifestyles, I knew the climate was ripe for this program.
School librarian Karen Harrell at Rummel Creek, Sherwood’s principal and I comprised the core planning team for Eat to Learn including the Taste-Off. Sherwood’s art, health fitness, and music teachers aided us, as well as others behind the scenes at Rummel Creek. When we did not receive the PTA grant, Rummell Creek came to the rescue by securing the produce donation for both schools- a total of 1200 students - from HEB, a regional grocery store. Excited about our program, HEB boosted its donation with hula hoops, kites, water bottles, and nutrition activity guides.
The day of the Taste-Off arrived. During health fitness period, 400 Sherwood students received yellow punch cards, each with nine fruit and vegetable icons. Students rotated through tasting stations, sampling raw fruit and vegetables handed to them in cups by parent volunteers. For each item tasted, students got a punch on their cards. Afterwards, students decided favorite and least favorite items by placing stickers on a chart.
The results floored me.
82% tasted all nine items.
48% preferred a vegetable over fruit.
25% chose a green veggie as their favorite item.
30 days after the Taste-Off, the cafeteria reported a 10% increase in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption and 30% of students choose fresh vegetables when offered, leaving plenty of room for improvement. The favorable response to the raw spinach offered has led Child Nutritional Services group to consider adding spinach to the romaine/iceberg blend currently used in the fresh-made salads.
I believe a nourished brain is a learning brain. As a recovering picky eater, I’m convinced that taste buds can transform. My message:
When parents and schools consistently offer whole, real food to kids, it eventually goes down the hatch. A kid can learn to read and write. A kid can learn to ride a bike. Unless his community doesn’t believe in him, there’s no reason why a kid can’t develop a palate that is literate to a multitude of whole, unprocessed foods.
I blog at Food with Kid Appeal, a guide to growing good eaters. My presentations to parents’ groups bust the myth that kids don’t like vegetables. Thanks, Jamie, for being a real food hero who inspires others. With a unified voice, caring advocates like us can compel schools to overcome the tough obstacles that prevent real food from being served to America’s children.
About the author: Jenna Pepper is a mother of two, blogger, foodie and nutrition enthusiast living in Houston, Texas
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