In Honor of July 4th, Swapping Berries For Tootsie Rolls

In Honor Of July 4th, Swapping Berries For Tootsie Rolls

Mon 02 Jul 2012

Story by Leah Chapman

This past Monday my students and I celebrated the Fourth of July a little early. And my first grade student Peyton got to have a mouth full of blueberries instead of a mouth full of Tootsie Rolls.

In a rural, agricultural Midwestern town, it’s hard to believe that kids can be so disconnected from the food on their dinner plate. (Or I guess I should say, “supper plate”!) That's changing, though -- thanks to the efforts of several organizations committed to connecting kids to real, delicious food. The Wisdom and Wellness summer program, a partnership between the Howard-Winneshiek Community School District, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Iowa Department of Public Health BASICS nutrition program, promotes wellness and nutrition to K-8 students in Northeast Iowa. Students receive free breakfast and lunch every day, along with two hours of food and fitness education. The Wisdom and Wellness program is also supported by the Walmart Foundation, Fuel Up to Play 60 and the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative.

Teaching Kids Cooking Skills

As a FoodCorps Service Member for the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, I serve with the Howard-Winneshiek school district to help build local capacity for policy and environmental changes to support healthy eating and active living. Each morning, I teach forty students in grades K-3 cooking skills and basic nutrition for the Wisdom and Wellness program. Working only with safety knives and choppers, they learn knife skills, preparation methods and kitchen safety. Every morning when I walk into school, the students yell, “There’s Leah! What are we cooking today, Leah?!” and they proceed to rummage through my grocery bags and excitedly fire off more questions.

It is so refreshing to see their enthusiasm and witness small, but encouraging diet-related changes at the end of each week. For example, Kaia, one of the girls going into 3rd grade, exclaimed while making berry smoothies, “I used to hate raspberries because they were hairy, but now I love them! Now I’m going to eat them all the time!”

Delicious Dishes for Fourth of July

In honor of the Fourth of July, the students created several special and delicious dishes. Keeping with the themes of red, white and blue and nutrient-dense food, the students made “star-spangled banana splits,” a fruit flag and “revolutionary berries.” Several high school students and I split the students into three cooking stations. At each station, students washed, sorted, peeled, chopped, cut, scooped and arranged fruit to create three wonderful patriotic dishes!

The “star-spangled banana splits” consisted of a banana sliced in half, three scoops of watermelon (instead of ice cream), low-fat vanilla yogurt (instead of whipped cream) and blueberries sprinkled on top. For our “revolutionary berries,” we washed and prepped strawberries, dipped them in low-fat vanilla yogurt and dipped the bottoms in red sprinkles. Most of all, the students loved the fruit flag. We sliced bananas and strawberries and arranged them in rows and used blackberries for the stars. The kids ate the entire flag after admiring their creation!

I enjoy helping these kids learn to cook and improve their diets, but my service with FoodCorps impacts me on a much deeper level. Most of my students have never tasted a fresh blueberry. Many have a mouthful of silver teeth from cavities. And ironically, although many students in Howard County live on farms or have families with agricultural backgrounds, students often don’t know where their food comes from or how real food is grown.

Beginning With Small Steps

Something is wrong with this picture. Everyone, especially children, should have access to fresh blueberries. Kids shouldn’t suffer from dental problems at age 6. And everyone should know that food grows in the ground, not at a grocery store. To me, improving these unfortunate realities begins with small steps, like making fruit flags and “revolutionary berries.”

When given the opportunity, kids love to cook and create. They love digging in the dirt. They love visiting farms and eating radishes out of the ground. To me, FoodCorps is about reminding schools and communities that kids love to cook and garden and play outside. It is up to us to create abundant opportunities for local food, physical activity, nutrition education and gardening.

Step by step, little by little, we can improve our diets and food system “with liberty and justice for all.”

About the author: Leah Chapman is a FoodCorps service member in Decorah, Iowa, where she works with more than 20 schools throughout six rural counties to help develop and maintain school gardens and educate students, teachers and service staff about the benefits of consuming real food.


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