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Child Nutrition Department Helps Moms Teach Healthy Eating Habits (February, 2006)

Teach Healthy Eating HabitsThe Frisco Independent School District Child Nutrition Department is a vital part of school operations in the cafeterias each day, but the department is also striving to help schools with curriculum that will produce healthy adults who understand how to read labels and how food fuels the body.

Director of Child Nutrition Services, Lena Wilson, notes that over the past three years the Child Nutrition Department has developed and implemented a nutrition education program that is active in more than half of the district’s 18 elementary schools.
“It is a voluntary program available to all the elementary schools,” Wilson explained. “Teachers invite the district’s nutrition educator into the classroom. Over a six-year period, beginning in kindergarten, students can learn the food groups, the new food pyramid, healthy eating tips, label reading and meal planning.”

FISD’s Registered Dietitian Christy Youens works closely with Michelle Puckett, Nutrition Education Manager, to keep the district current on nutrition information. They hope that after studying nutrition in school, students will take their lessons home, to the cafeteria, to the grocery store and even to their parents.

Puckett visits campuses to teach about the food pyramid, but her job doesn’t stop there. For one thing, the pyramid that most FISD parents grew up learning was drastically changed in April of 2005. For teachers and parents who haven’t looked at it in a while – it is no longer a block pyramid but a color-coded system that includes exercise as part of the healthy eating program.
FISD’s child nutrition education curriculum shows teachers how to use nutrition to teach a variety of skills that are important to all students. Second-graders learn about comparative thinking. Fourth and fifth graders journal and graph their eating habits. At Isbell Elementary 120 second grade students recently studied the benefits of healthy eating with Sweet Potatoes. They learned about the nutritional value of the sweet potato. They built Santa, reindeer, animals and even airplanes with sweet potatoes and decorated the Isbell cafeteria with the finished products. They also learned that George Washington grew sweet potatoes. They did math problems with sweet potatoes and they learned about tubers as a science lesson. The curriculum is aimed at helping make food decisions easy for children. The department has applied for an award from the Texas Department of Agriculture for its sweet potato curriculum, Wilson said.

Teach Healthy Eating HabitsFISD often uses Brown Bag Lunches to help with parent education. Recently, the child nutrition program was the topic at the Bright Elementary Brown Bag Luncheon. Parents were shown the new pyramid and how the curriculum and portion control is explained to children. “I show them my baseball. I explain that my baseball represents one whole piece of fruit or one cup of salad. I use a computer mouse to show them the size a serving of cooked vegetables or canned fruit,” Puckett demonstrated.

Several mothers at the Brown Bag Luncheon were shocked to find out that they had been the victim of successful advertising. Sports drinks are often advertised as healthy, but they are as heavy on salt and sugar as sodas. Puckett urged parents to read labels and watch salt and sugar amounts. “Try water or orange juice – orange juice is a natural energy drink,” she explained.
Physical exercise is also part of the new nutrition guidelines. The Bright moms were asked how many of their children had spent the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday playing

video games and several moms admitted that is what their children had done. Puckett said students often tell her they have great hand-eye coordination from their gaming and strong thumbs. “I ask them what good that does if their legs don’t work,” she said.
The Child Nutrition Department is focusing on heart health with the nutrition lessons. “I like to use this lesson with the second grade classes. I write the word car and then body. I ask them what makes the car go, they answer gas. I ask what makes the body go – they answer food. Then we talk about oil and water being needed. But when I ask them what the body’s engine is – often they answer the brain instead of the heart. Heart disease is the number one health problem in America,” Puckett said.
Parents and children are urged by Child Nutrition staff to go on line to the website to read about the new nutrition guidelines and even put in information that will provide families with personalized nutrition plans for each individual.

The Child Nutrition Department constantly works to introduce healthy eating choices at the school cafeterias, though they can’t force children to make good choices. At one point, the department introduced a healthier pizza choice that was vegetarian. The students who tried it loved it – until word leaked out that it had carrots and other vegetables in it. Then the pizza lost its popularity, Wilson said. But the district has been successful in promoting healthier eating – even with pizza and baked goods on the menu. Wilson noted that all food served in the district is trans-fat free, all cheese is reduced fat, the gravies are low-fat and even the brownies are reduced fat.

Wilson has overseen the department for the past eight years. As with every aspect of the district, the nutrition department has had to keep up with growth, improve performance and educate students who are growing up in a world where fast food is often lunch and dinner and childhood obesity is increasing.

“The Department is trying to set an example for children. We offer healthy choices such as salad and fruit. The district took sports drinks out of the elementary schools this year. We hope parents know what we are doing and support us. We hope parents feel confident that their child will receive quality instruction that teaches balance, moderation and healthy food choices.” she said.