By Pam Reinig, Clayton County Register
Here’s something to chew on: Studies have shown that relying on fast food and “junk” food can hurt how well children do in the classroom.
Researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Texas, Austin, report a 20 percent difference in the test scores of kids with healthy diets and those with a heavy reliance on processed, salty and deep-fried foods.
That’s of significant concern to educators. So to help students make healthier decisions about meals and snacks, Central school nurse Meghan Bergan applied for and received a grant that has enabled her to do nutrition education with 4th graders.
Central is one of 20 schools selected to participate in Healthy Schools-Healthy Students, a project funded by the USDA and administered by the Iowa Department of Education. The effort includes monthly food tastings and cafeteria coaching where older students sit with 4th graders at lunch to serve as role models for healthy choices.
Bergan said students have been open to the taste-testing sessions, and there’s been no hesitation in their “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” reactions to certain foods. Avocadoes and rutabagas got a hearty thumbs down; tangelos and pomegranates were more enthusiastically received.
The grant team selected the foods the student taste during the project. Other selections are spinach leaves with dressing, water flavored with lemon, lime or cucumber, and mint on Triscuit crackers.
According to Bergan, 4th graders were chosen for the project because they “are at the age when they are starting to make more independent decisions on the snacks and meals they choose to eat.”
“This project has helped students to get outside their comfort zones when it comes to trying new things,” said Central 4th grade teacher Lauren Anstoetter. “They’re excited to get home and ask their parents to add these new items to their grocery lists.”
Nutrition education is also an important component of the project. Students are learning about the MyPlate food guide that several years ago replaced the food pyramid. Their most recent session involved a paper-and-pencil exercise focused on making healthy lunch and snack choices. ISU Youth Outreach employee Kendra Crooks helped students by sharing food options to fill the sections of a plate to meet recommended nutritional requirements, which equal 30 percent grains, 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits and 20 percent proteins plus dairy.
The final component of the project—cafeteria coaching—has been Bergan’s favorite.
“Seeing upperclassmen interact with the younger students has been a neat experience,” she said.
The project started in November and will conclude in April.