Teaching Kids to Love Fruits and Veggies

Aurora Buffington

As a public health professional, my passion is to improve health by promoting physical activity and good nutrition. I like to make as large an impact as possible because I want my community to thrive, and efforts to improve child well-being are especially nice because kids represent our future. The Clark County School District (CCSD) is the nation’s 5th largest school district, with 321,648 students enrolled in 2017-2018. Considering that about 17% of our county’s population are children between the ages of 5-18, we can estimate that 86% of our kids attend a CCSD school. This potential to reach so many children shows why it’s important to help create healthier school environments which ultimately affect a child’s ability to learn.

All schools participating in federal child nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program are required to implement a School Wellness Policy. These policies require schools to create goals related to nutrition promotion and education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness. At the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, many of the educational programs we offer can help schools meet their goals at no cost to the school.

One of the teams I lead at Extension is the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools team which helps support school wellness using many strategies, including nutrition education using the Pick a Better Snack curriculum. Our talented Extension instructors visit 2nd and 3rd-grade classrooms in 21 local elementary schools once every month to teach students about a fruit or vegetable and give them a sensory tasting experience, while weaving in a physical activity break. Last year, the team reached over 4,400 students, and we’re told that students and teachers look forward to the nutrition lessons. Of course, our motivation is to improve dietary intake and help the students make lasting and positive changes to their diet, so we conduct evaluations to determine if we’ve helped make a difference. The results from 2016-2017 were encouraging, with students reporting the following:

  • eating fruits and vegetables more often
  • liking to try new fruits and vegetables more
  • liking to eat fruits and vegetables at school more
  • liking to eat fruits as snacks more; we still need to work on their liking of veggies as snacks
  • increased familiarity for all 9 fruits and vegetables highlighted in the lessons, except for broccoli; not surprising because we exposed the students to those foods, however surprising that many students were unfamiliar with them at the beginning!
  • increased number of students liking the 9 fruits and vegetables, except strawberries; not surprising because most kids already liked strawberries at the beginning.

The Pick a Better Snack program has a 2-year cycle, so students are exposed to 9 different fruits and vegetables every year. I look forward to the day when every student is given an improved opportunity to learn in a healthier school environment and am excited to represent one of many partners helping to make that a reality.

Learn more about Nevada School Wellness Policy.

More From Urban Seed