3,500 students in 22 elementary schools in Iowa City Community, Lone Tree and Clear Creek Amana districts are learning about food and how to live a healthy life.
"Pick a Better Snack" lessons are widespread. Students have the opportunity to "be brave" and try new fruits and vegetables and are more likely to eat produce from the lunch line. As a result, youngsters are making better food choices, have more energy for school and the activities they enjoy.
Additionally, organizers find the youngsters take the lessons home to share information with family members, helping them build better health habits.
Pick a Better Snack is a good thing because the 2010 Community Needs Assessment identified only 6 percent of Johnson county youth consume the daily recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach nutrition and health specialist Rachel Wall, MS, RD, LD, said the 10-year old program started with two schools. The curriculum centers on goals to empower kids to make healthy choices:
• "Be Brave" and try new foods
• My Plate
• "All-the-time" foods versus "sometimes" foods
• Drink water and low-fat dairy products versus sugar-sweetened beverages
• Be physically active with 60 minutes of daily activity
Gene Mohling, ISU Region 15 Education Extension director oversees the program, and Wall ensures the program content is research-based. Two Johnson County Extension nutrition educators, Melissa Stahl and Carol Larsen, work with more than 150 teachers to make the program successful. Wall says "Pick a Better Snack" emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet and 60-minutes of daily exercise. "You can't have one without the other."
Registered dietitian and nutrition educators work closely with school food service staff and parents to communicate Pick a Better Snack curriculum. Parents (and guardians) report positive feedback: 80 percent report their child eats more fruits and vegetables and nearly 70 percent report their child encouraged them to purchase more fruits and vegetables.
The program also provides events outside the classroom with parents, including the "Get Moving" for Healthy Kids race, family fitness nights at local schools and activities at the Iowa Children's Museum. Wall says, "We want parents to know what we're doing and talking about with their children. Getting kids to try as many fruits and vegetables as possible is a win in our book.
"We have great feedback. Kids tell us that eating healthy gives them energy to learn and play their favorite sports. One student told us she wanted to be a 'Pick a Better Snack' lady when she grew up."