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Hold the Fries:
Three Programs Are Improving
Student Nutrition


Halting the trend toward child obesity is a challenge, but some schools are meeting that challenge with more than food that is nutritionally balanced. They are using technological tools and nutrition and exercise curricula to help students make wise choices about what they eat and do...for life! Included: Learn about three school nutrition programs that are working.

Want fries with that? If it seems that your students are only interested in fast food fare, don't blame them, take aim at American culture. Our love affair with quick and not-so-healthy meals is spreading to more than our children's waistlines, it is tainting the way they look at food, says Dr. Antonia Demas, president and founder of the Food Studies Institute. Her non-profit organization in Trumansburg, New York, makes it its mission to improve the long-term health and education of children and their families.


There are many obstacles to children's good nutrition today, including advertising efforts of the fast food industry that are aimed at children," Demas explained. "Food in school is not often linked to education and frequently mimics the foods in the fast food culture. Another challenge is the lack of political will to make food education a priority."

Districts that do want to make food education a priority can consider adopting some of the programs highlighted here, including one developed by Demas and two others developed by educators "in-house."


A nutrition and fitness program that any elementary school can adopt is the Happy Feet, Healthy Food Kids' Club created by Carol Goodrow, a teacher, author, and founder and editor of, which has information about exercise and nutrition, as well as pages where students can record information. received a District Administration magazine national Curriculum Premium Web Site Award in 2002, one of 11 sites to earn that honor.

The afterschool Happy Feet, Healthy Food clubs emphasize fitness, outdoor fun, healthful eating, and literacy, according to the Web site. Schools that want to start a club can order copies of Goodrow's book, Happy Feet, Healthy Food, which has information about exercise, nutrition, and pages where students can record information. The club Web site also has links to printable charts, bookmarks, and other materials.

During each ten-week session in the fall and spring, children track their own fitness and nutrition habits by keeping a journal and also by working to reach group goals.

Students are encouraged to bring and eat a healthful snack when they arrive at the club meeting and note it in their journals. After singing a song and reading a chapter from Goodrow's book about a specific physical activity or healthful snack, students go outside (if the weather is nice) to walk, run, or jog.

When they return to the classroom, they write about the physical activity -- one word, phrase, sentence, or many sentences depending on the child's level -- according to the club description.

Students also

  • fill in a "time tracker" to record the amount of time spent exercising, both in the club and during other activities of the day.
  • record healthful foods eaten at the club, in school, and at home.
  • sketch an everyday healthful habit.

Each child uses "footprint charts" to keep track of group goals by coloring footprints different colors depending on which goal he or she has met. These goals include club attendance, bringing the journal to club meetings, journaling at home on non-club days, having a parent volunteer, bringing a healthful snack to the club meeting, doing an event or fun run, and doing something special with family related to health and fitness. Students also can bring in "happy feet lunch slips," signed by a parent, which list the healthful foods they ate for lunch. Kids who are able to color in 26 footprints receive a ribbon.



Food for Thought

Dr. Antonia Demas' book and video are available from the


Demas of the Food Studies Intstitute proved in her doctoral thesis for Cornell University that a food-based curriculum encourages students to accept diverse healthful foods in the school lunch program. She used that knowledge to design a food curriculum for pre-K students through eighth grade called Food Is Elementary. She also serves as a consultant who conducts talks, trains food educators, and orchestrates new research in this area. Schools can improve the nutrition of their students, Demas says, by

  • making food literacy an educational priority.
  • realizing that food affects not only the physical health of the student, but also his or her behavior and academic performance.
  • integrating school meals with the educational curriculum of the school so that food is given the importance it deserves and so school meals reflect contemporary knowledge about nutrition.
  • supporting food service through classroom education.

"There is a perception that kids will not eat healthy foods, but they will if they receive positive education that is hands-on and sensory-based," she explained. In her lessons, students are active participants who use their five senses to study whole foods, and cook, create art, plant seeds, write in journals, and more.

"When students take part in hands-on experiences with foods, they become familiar with the foods and knowledgeable about their history, growing conditions, nutrients, and sensory properties," said Demas. "Kids have positive, pleasant experiences and taste foods that they prepare which look, smell, and taste good. They take pride in what they create. They also understand how these foods promote health rather than disease."



A Colorful Approach

Many students understand good nutrition and strive to make good choices, but they are pressed for time to consume their selections while they socialize during rushed lunch periods. Penny McConnell presents a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to entice her clientele!
"We are known for our very colorful fruit and vegetable trays," said McConnell. "I think students select food with their eyes, so I think the colorful choices help to promote vegetable and fruit consumptions."


"Knowing the research shows that families -- especially children -- do not consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, I came up with our own Five A Day logo and it was Give Me 5!" recalled Penny McConnell. "Every month we highlighted different fruits and vegetables and tried to incorporate new ones. For example last year we added jicama to the repertoire!"

Colorful fruit and vegetable characters appear on the menu and flyers that are posted at the serving lines on special days in the Fairfax County Public Schools, where McConnell is director of Food and Nutrition Services. The operating philosophy is "We Talk Nutrition, We Serve Nutrition, and We Teach Nutrition." As a registered dietitian, McConnell insists that all members of the team adhere to this motto.

"Since I believe our program is the nutrition laboratory supporting the nutrition education curriculum and the mission of the schools, we have a great opportunity to add excitement to our program by developing a variety of nutrition related monthly promotions," explained McConnell. "I developed fruit and vegetable trivia on our Web site so teachers could use that information in the classroom."

The original theme was updated this year to Give Me 5! Colors That Jive!. The district is very large with 232 schools and centers, and McConnell and her team have designed K-6 nutrition education classes that reach at least 300 classrooms per year. The activities include nutritional tic-tac-toe and Give Me 5! BINGO, an alphabet booklet, puzzles, an Energy Zone Derby, and a kids cooking session.

"We prepare different foods or snacks, we give students Give Me 5! pencils and fruit erasers, and we provide colorful activity sheets that students complete and take home to share with their families," added McConnell. "That takes the message home."


Food Is Elementary
Antonia Demas' book and video are available from

United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program Resource Center
Learn about this pilot program that provides free fresh fruit and vegetables to students as snacks during the school day.

Action for Healthy Kids
Check out this resource to learn more about an initiative designed to enhance the nutrition and physical activity of children through schools.

Team Nutrition Resource Library
A list of resources available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service's Team Nutrition program for schools and child care facilities that participate in the federal Child Nutrition Programs.