Among the many things kids learn growing up, one that may be more important than all the others is how to eat right. You see, we spend so much time, money and effort teaching them math, history and science, but so little time teaching them what nutrition means. And this is a lesson that can actually save their lives! Once they learn to understand and love nutrition, they will be empowered to make better food choices today and in the future. Teaching Kids to Eat Fruits and Vegetables is a lesson that will benefit them forever.
Most kids’ diets today are colorless. They feed on white foods. Highly processed, nutrient poor, white foods. And a lot of parents don’t realize that food is the foundation of both their physical and intelectual development. When children are exposed to a variety of foods, and colors in their plate, from an early age, they are more open tro trying new things and experiencing new flavors. But when they are used to eating the same things day in and day out, when they see something different in their plate, they will not want to try it. In fact their taste buds won’t be in shape for new flavors and so they won’t like them, even if they gave it a try.
So the answer to this is making a combined effort between parents and schools to get kids acquainted with a variety of colors, flavors and healthy foods. This generation of kids is facing a very tough health crisis, and we need to act early to protect them from becoming part of the statistics.
We found an article of an campaign done by an elementary school in Rapid City, SD, that is a good example of easy, entertaining ways to introduce kids to the concept of nutrition, and to trying new foods.
Bryant Thaler climbs into an inflatable plastic cube with his kindergarten classmates on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 at Meadowbrook Elementary School. Students at Meadowbrook are spending the week learning about five groups of fruits and vegetables, separated by the color of that particular food. Students learned about fruits and vegetables that are green, yellow and orange, blue and purple, white and brown, and red. (Kristina Barker/Journal staff)
Jake Billman is a little unsure of bean sprouts, but he did try them. The Meadowbrook Elementary School fifth-grader said he “wasn’t much of a fan” of the vegetable, but there are plenty of other fruits and vegetables out there he likes, loves and will devour.
That’s just what school nurse Rita Dzintars hopes students picked up during “Eat Your Colors … But Not Your Crayons Week” at the school last week. It’s the third year for the program, in which students are encouraged to try new fruits and vegetables, think of ways to eat healthier and learn more about nutrition.
Except this year, thanks to a grant through the Rapid City Public School Foundation, Dzintars was able to take the hands-on activities to a new level. With help from parents and students, Dzintars designed and built an 8-1/2-foot inflatable color cube.
“We were trying to get the kids a little more excited this year,” she said.
The cube, which reached to the ceiling and was made of the main healthy food colors, was large enough to hold a class of 30 students.
During the week, students wore a selected color for the day, had a nutrition lessons and taste-tested inside the Color Cube. Students also were read to inside the cube and some classes watched movies.
On “red day,” the students ate tomatoes, apples and other healthy red foods.
“We’re trying to get them to taste new things in new ways,” she said. “It’s pretty much a new experience.”
During one activity, the students made a clown salad – a face made out of vegetables. A red cheery nose reminded students that red is good for the heart and blood, green helps teeth and bones, and orange helps the eyes.
The colors, Dzintars said, help different areas of the body.
“The big word of the week was nutrients – that is, what makes the food healthy,” she added.
The effort was building-wide, she said.
Daily announcements provided students with information about the benefit of the eating the color of the day, cafeteria workers wore themed aprons and hats and physical education class included activities that went along with the color scheme of the day.
“It’s kind of an all-put effort to focus on nutrition and making healthy choices,” Dzintars said. ” … It’s so important to establish healthy habits, eat five different colors every day, and having them learn what is nutrition and what is not.”
Dorian Baldes, also a fifth-grader at the school, thinks he learned a little something.
“I learned that candy and junk food can give you quick energy, but healthy food gives you lasting energy,” he said.
The cube, he said, “was really cool,” and bigger than he thought it was going to be.
His favorite healthy foods are cucumbers or kiwis, but he did admit he enjoys a slice of cake every now and then.
Dzintars said she was inspired to start the program because Meadowbrook is not a Title I school, and does not receive weekly fruits and vegetables. She wanted to find a way to teach the kids, at an early age, how to be healthy and take care of their bodies.
“Our parents do provide a lot of that at home, but we do have a lot of children who don’t get it,” she said.
Jake was pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by friends who enjoyed the week’s activities as much as he did.
“They all liked it,” he said. “They actually tried a few new fruits and vegetables that they liked.”
If you know of local efforts like this in your community, please share them with us! We can all learn from each other’s initiatives, and it will all be in the benefit of our children’s health.