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Cantaloupe Instead of Cupcakes? Believe It!


"Nutrition can't be a unit; it has to be ongoing." Those are the words of Sabina M. Mosso, who teaches preschoolers and kindergartners at Anna Boyd Child Development Center in Columbia, South Carolina. Recognized by the Dole Food Company for her efforts to improve student nutrition, both in her school, and in other state school districts, Mosso knew she had won a huge victory when one of her students showed up on his birthday with a fruit tray instead of cupcakes! Included: Mosso's tips for improving student nutrition in your school and online nutrition resources too!

A simple homework assignment started it all. Sabina M. Mosso teaches kindergartners and preschoolers in special education and regular classes at the Anna Boyd Child Development Center in Columbia, South Carolina. Several years ago, a nutrition professor in Mosso's graduate program assigned her to go back to her classroom and make a change -- improve student nutrition. That wouldn't be an easy task by any standards. "These kids were bringing a bunch of garbage to school," she recalled.

Sabina Mosso (center), classroom assistant Carolyn Wilson, and students snack on vegetables at a party honoring Mosso.

Mosso decided the most effective strategy was establishing a new school-wide healthful snack policy. She received the endorsements of the school administration and her fellow teachers and turned her attention to getting parents on board.

Mosso and other staff members offered evening parent workshops about nutrition so efforts would not end in the classroom.

That homework assignment led to additional changes in other classrooms. Teachers wanted to know how Mosso had been able to get young students to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, so she trained colleagues from 17 other school districts at in-service workshops. In addition to leading workshops, Mosso shared her strategies at other educational seminars.

Would you like to improve the nutritional quality of your students' diets? Sabina Mosso has some tips for you! Read Tips for Improving Student Nutrition in the sidebar to this story.


The Dole Food Company, sponsors of Dole Food Company's Nutrition Program, named Mosso its Creative 5 A Day Teacher of the Year.

Mosso accepts Dole's Creative 5 A Day Teacher of the Year award in front of a produce display set up for the event.

Helping kids choose a more healthful lifestyle is a tough assignment. According to a 1996 report, "What We Eat In America," by the United States Department of Agriculture, only 26 percent of all children eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The same report states that about half of the nation's children do not eat even one serving of fruit daily. French fries and potato chips make up a third of the vegetables kids eat. Other studies have found that more than 84 percent of children and adolescents eat too much total fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After Mosso established the healthful snack policy, she gave a sticker to each student who brought a healthful snack to school. Some students had trouble complying with the policy. One student was so dismayed that she hadn't yet received a sticker, she begged for one. Mosso told the student "If you go home and bring in a [healthful] snack, I'll give you a sticker." The student's response helped prompt the parent education workshops: "You have to talk to my mommy. My mommy doesn't know what a [healthful] snack is."


Mosso and the school staff conducted four workshops throughout the school year. The workshops explained the policy regarding healthful snacks and suggested ways to interest children in making the leap into the produce aisle. Mosso suggested that parents include their children in the selection process: Take them to the grocery store and let them pick out the fruits and vegetables they like.

Another parent workshop included students and taught them and their parents simple ways of preparing healthful meals. "We have a real close relationship with our parents on a daily basis, either verbally or written," Mosso said. "That rapport is the real reason for our success."

The parents loved the new policy, Mosso recalled. They told her that their children were asking for more fruits and vegetables at home. Even parents had become more aware of what they ate and added more fruits and vegetables to their diets. She tells people "Nutrition can't be a unit; it has to be ongoing. ... It's a life skill and it has to be integrated on a continual basis."

Students check out bags of goodies provided by Dole.

Mosso points to lifestyle changes as part of the proof a change is being made. "The ultimate proof was when a student brought in a birthday fruit tray instead of the traditional birthday cake," she said.

Although receiving a national award honored her, Mosso hasn't sat on her laurels. She has added another component for more healthful living. Mosso's lesson plans now include aerobic exercise each day. Parents and her students' siblings even get to join in on the fun at a local gym one evening per month for no charge as Mosso leads them in an aerobic exercise class!


Dole's 5 A Day Adventures is the centerpiece of the Dole Nutrition Program. Dole provides classroom resources designed to provide “Everything you need to get your students excited about eating fruits and vegetables.” Downloadable fitness and “5 A Day” tracking worksheets are designed to motivate and encourage students to increase activity and fruit/vegetable consumption. It documents details on how to implement healthy snacking behavioral change. Other resources include a tool kit with instructions for creating active nutrition adventures at the school. It includes a “kids section” and a bilingual section.

Sabina Mosso's
Tips for Improving
Student Nutrition

Start with a snack policy.
After establishing a policy regarding healthful snacks, Mosso and the school staff took a closer look at the cafeteria menu. Mosso said they made a few changes with lunch and breakfast, such as not offering melted butter with pancakes for breakfast and offering only low-fat milk.

Get colleague and parent support.
"You have got to have everyone on your side,'' Mosso said. After receiving the endorsement of the school principal and fellow teachers, explain to parents why healthful snacks are important for their children.

Reward students with a sticker on a chart.
"It doesn't take much to offer [students] positive reinforcement," Mosso said. Children need to see their progress and success. Stickers are a simple way to reward them and remind them of that success.

Teach parents about healthy nutrition.
"That rapport is the real reason for our success,'' Mosso explained. Good nutrition must be part of students' home-life too. Workshops that teach both parents and students how to prepare simple, healthful meals were helpful.

Be a role model.
"You can't underestimate our role to our kids,'' Mosso said. Parents and teachers also need to eat healthful foods.

Every day is good nutrition day.
"Nutrition can't be a unit; it has to be ongoing,'' Mosso said. "It's a life skill and it has to be integrated on a continual basis." It must also cross into other curriculum topics.

A fellow teacher introduced Mosso to the Dole program. She recalled being very excited to learn the company provided free materials to promote better nutrition. Although Dole gears its program for third-grade students, Mosso adapted it for her younger students. Mosso used all of these materials, which she said made it easier for her to get the message across to her students. She also taught her students an abbreviated version of the 5 A Day Live play. Students performed some of the songs dressed in fruit and vegetable costumes!

Since 1991, Dole has spent approximately $20 million to promote better nutrition for children, according to Lorelei DiSogra, director of nutrition and health at Dole. About 60 percent of all elementary schools in the United States use the CD-ROM, she said. Nutrition education is a serious issue, noted DiSogra. "Children are eating only half of the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day,"

The goal of the program is to help students and their families make lasting changes. "This is when eating habits develop and if children learn [healthful] habits, they will carry those [healthful] habits into adulthood," DiSogra explained.

The Dole program promotes the goals of the National Cancer Institute and the Produce for Better Health Foundation. "I think [Dole] has done a phenomenal job," said Gloria Stables, program director of 5 A Day for Better Health at the National Cancer Institute. "They have taken it on as a major effort. It's a nice, stand-alone program that fits in very nicely with the partnership."


CDC's Nutrition And Physical Activity Page
This site offers information about improving child and adolescent health through physical activity and nutrition.

Physical Education Central
This site offers health and physical education teachers tips and lesson plan ideas.

5 A Day For Better Health
The National Cancer Institute offers this site to help you keep track of your daily nutritional progress and exercise.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright© 2009 Education World

Updated 03/05/2019