LYND - Studies show that nearly a third of American children are overweight and less than 1 percent of elementary children eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables, so the University of Minnesota Extension is trying to make a difference by promoting a new curriculum called "Go Wild with Fruits and Veggies."
"It's a neat theme this year," said Darlyce Rangaard, community nutrition educator from Lyon County Extension. "The kids are just learning so much about fruits and vegetables, which are necessary for our diet. It's a great program that includes teachers, families and the school cafeteria."
Rangaard introduced the new program to third- and fourth-graders at Lynd School at the beginning of the school year. She returns once a month to continue to educate and also follow the progress of the students.
Photos by Cindy Votruba
Lynd third-graders Fatima Cardenas, left and Myles Williams, assist Darlyce Rangaard, Lyon County Extension community nutrition educator, with an experiment Tuesday.
"Every month, we focus on a different animal that can be found in Minnesota," Rangaard said. "The whole fruits and vegetables curriculum has seven lessons. They learn a little bit about the science part of it, too."
The first week, Lynd students met Rosie Rabbit, who grows a fabulous garden. Then came Becky Blue Bear and Derek Deer.
"We also associate a color with the day, so with Becky, it was about blueberries," Rangaard said. "With Derek Deer, we had red food samples like tomatoes, craisins and peppers."
Melanie Moose and green fruits were the focus of Week 4. The students taste-tested snow peas, spinach and kiwi fruit. Rangaard incorporated wild turkeys in Minnesota into the fifth lesson with Tomas the Turkey.
"We had mini corn cobs and pumpkin pudding," she said. "The kids had to make the pudding. They enjoyed the hands-on experience with stirring it."
But no matter what week it is, Rangaard said the first question the students always ask is "what are we having for snack today?"
"They're really good at trying new things," Rangaard said. "They'll come back and tell me that they went with their mother to the grocery store and picked up some raspberries or jicama. That makes me feel good to hear they're talking about it at home."
Part of the curriculum is meant for education at home. Every month, Rangaard sends a newsletter home to parents to challenge the family to go to the grocery store and pick out a certain colored fruit or vegetable.
"Parents have to sign a form saying they've talked about it so it incorporates family, too," Rangaard said. "It's not just the kid in school. I also send home recipes like sweet potato fries."
For teachers, "Go Wild with Fruits and Veggies" can be continued in the classroom. Rangaard is eager to supply teachers with spelling words, classroom party ideas or word searches.
Education also spills into the school cafeteria, where select fruits or vegetables are highlighted on the menu. The program also encourages people to grow their own fresh vegetables and fruits.
"Instead of having fruits and vegetables trucked 500 miles, we're encouraging the children to plant somethings," Rangaard said. "Farm to School is really popular now, too. It reminds me of my own childhood when we did a lot of our own gardening."
In addition to learning that March is National Nutrition Month, students at in Lynd sampled a Mexican potato called jicama, parsnips, Baltic pears and banana chips Tuesday with Ricky Raccoon and tan and white fruits and vegetables as the focus.
The kids clapped as Rangaard brought out a bag of Lays potato chips and bag from KFC. Rangaard showed how much fat came off of chips and french fries by having students Fatima Cardenas and Myles Williams absorb the grease from the smushed-up products in paper towels.
Cardenas also participated in the monthly food challenge this past month, trying out a melon.
"My mom said 'just try it,'"?Cardenas said. "It was good."
Then the kids tried a plateful of the tan and white foods.
"The Mexican potato (jicama) tastes like grass,"?said third-grader Skylar Markegard.
"Go Wild with Fruits and Veggies" also challenges students to add physical activity to their daily schedule. Every lesson ends with a 5-10 minute music-laced physical activity such as the electric slide, the chicken dance or "Hot!Hot!Hot!" where a ball is passed around.
"It's a lot to get in in 45 minutes but we want them to develop good habits," Rangaard said. "We want them to live to be 100, have a strong heart and stay away from heart disease and diabetes. We're trying to educate them on that."
Between the monthly lessons, each class gets to color one block in on a special map that charts daily exercise in the classroom. The final lesson will take place in April and will include a garden party.
"Once the kids get to the headwaters on the map, they can have a party," Rangaard said. "They'll get to try more fruits and vegetables and I'll make up a salad."
That salad will be made from lettuce the kids planted in pots back in February.