“Pick a better snack” is a healthy initiative that the Iowa Nutrition Network markets in partnership with other key state organizations to encourage the consumption of more fruits and vegetables by choosing to eat healthier snacks. This marketing campaign is often displayed in grocery stores, school classrooms and cafeterias and in public health entities such as the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa WIC program. It is grant funded by the USDA as part of the SNAP-ed program for nutrition outreach; it provides curriculum to introduce into school classrooms to teach children about the many varieties of fresh produce and encourages them to do “tastings” where they sample different fruits and vegetables, many they may have not tried before.
Not only is this program taking over the state but it is making a difference in many youth’s food choices right here in Northeast Iowa. At Postville Elementary School, the program has been implemented as a 2 week day camp during the summer. 50 youth in the area participate in the 10 day program from 8 AM to Noon. Each day consists of taste testing fruits or vegetables, making a healthy snack by learning new cooking skills, participating in classroom lessons that revolve around nutrition and physical activity, and enjoying a nutritious breakfast and lunch.
The grant that funds this program requires that in these 10 days, all students must be offered 10 opportunities to taste new fruits and veggies and that 10 lessons on health or nutrition are provided. In the three days that I got to spend with the kids, I was shocked with how much they had learned in just a couple of days of lessons. They created MyPlate diagrams where they learned about the different food groups and learned what foods fit into each category. They were masters at identifying different parts of the plant and what types of plants vegetables were; spinach was a leaf, celery is the stem, broccoli is the flower, etc. I even learned some new things from them. It was fun to see them so excited about fruits and vegetables!
They did taste testings and created delicious snacks (Apple Frogs, Pickled Cucumbers, Trail Mix, Veggie Bagels, Mini Pizzas, etc) throughout the two weeks. On the day designated for taste testing vegetables, all of the students in my group tried all of the vegetables offered. They may not have liked all of them but they were all willing to try them! I even tried kohlrabi for the first time and learned how to cut it as well!
The YMCA was a hot spot for getting in some quality physical activity time. A day at the pool was another fun opportunity for the kids as well. The last day of the program, we took all of the students on a field trip to the Clayton County Fair. The kids LOVED it! They had the chance to pet a dairy cow, chickens and rabbits; watch the goat show; walk through all the barns and climb on the tractors. Some of the students know a lot about livestock and their families are farmers but a lot of the students don’t have that background and were fascinated with all they saw at the fair. One of the little boys in my group thought the fair “is SO cool!”. They were interested in learning what 4-H was and how they could join. I think we have some future 4-Hers on our hands. 🙂
Typically Pick a Better Snack is administered in classrooms during the school year once per month, but we hope to continue this unique program throughout future summers as well.