healthy food lessons at auburn elementary, georgia

Healthy Food Lessons At Auburn Elementary, Georgia

Mon 28 Feb 2011

Story by Elise Binder
 

Auburn Elementary School is a small public school in Barrow County, Georgia, with 592 students, 60% of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. My name is Elise Binder, and I am the school media specialist here at AES.

I have been concerned about the nutritional quality of the food served in our nation’s schools for years. Last summer, after seeing Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I realized that there was something I could do to help our children eat healthier. Just as the children on Jamie’s program couldn’t recognize fresh fruits and vegetables, some of ours couldn’t either.

I decided to teach our children about healthy foods. I wanted them to see and learn about the foods, and taste them as well. I was given permission to offer a healthy foods class this year, so I contacted a local supermarket who is a partner in education and explained the details of the program I wished to offer. They agreed to donate the foods and supplies. I have focused primarily on fruits and vegetables like berries, melons, green beans and broccoli.

Each week when I select healthy foods to talk about, I pick two or three from the same family, or one food that comes in a variety of forms (like canned, frozen, or fresh) so students will be able to compare tastes and vote for their favorite. I select foods that are in season and reasonably priced. One week we learned about grains like wheat and the difference between whole wheat, whole grain and white breads.

Teachers sign up to bring their class to the library for 15 minutes each week to learn about healthy foods. The important part of these lessons is that everyone gets to Touch, Taste, and Vote! Children touch the food and watch a PowerPoint with lots of pictures about its origin, nutritional benefits, preparation, and possible packaging. They also watch a brief video about the food, perhaps showing harvesters at work or how it’s processed in factories.

At the end of every class students and teachers can taste the healthy foods and then vote for their favorite. The week we learned about yogurt, we tried plain low fat, whole milk Greek, and fruit yogurt. No one was surprised when fruit yogurt won with 405 votes, but we were surprised to learn that most fruit yogurt is loaded with sugar because it is made with fruit jam. We now know we need to carefully read labels when selecting our yogurt brand.

At the end of the week, we announce the healthy food winner and one class gets to take the votes and create a graph showing the results, which are displayed in the hall and eventually in the supermarket.

As expected, our children are learning to identify healthy foods and their benefits. What we didn’t expect are the following:

• By allowing the children to taste all these different foods we have expanded their palates. Classes are writing persuasive essays asking our cafeteria manager to offer healthy foods such as winter squash on our lunch menu.

• Children are much more open to trying new foods in this kind of atmosphere. We had a large contingent of picky eaters in the beginning, but almost all of our children will now try the foods each week due, in part, to all of their peers’ positive reactions to the foods, the praise everyone is given for trying the foods, and the privilege of voting.

• Our program is expanding the menus of many families at their children’s urgings. The children love to tell me that they have one of our healthy foods in their snacks or have eaten it for dinner the night before.

• There is a rise in label awareness with children asking their parents to look for non-hydrogenated foods and foods low in sugar, fat or sodium.

• Our parents are as interested in learning about healthy foods as their children. I’ve noticed that every adult who stops in to our library stays to learn about and taste these foods.

About the author: Elise Binder is the school media specialist at Auburn Elementary School is in Barrow County, Georgia

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