During our Healthy Bodies Summer Nutrition Program, I gave a lesson to kids ages 5-12 about grains and proteins. For the younger kids, this proved quite a challenge; for the older ones, things made much more sense! We talked about hunger and the best foods to eliminate hunger/keep you full, refined vs. whole grains and lean vs. fatty proteins, and we made lentil oat loaf to tie the lesson together!
For the younger kids, much of this information was new – “fiber helps move food through your body”, “empty calories come from foods that provide lots of calories but little vitamins and nutrients”, “whole grains are unrefined and have much more fiber and vitamins than refined grains”, etc. These messages were hard for our younger students to wrap their heads around, as many of them had never even heard the words “fiber” or “calories” or “refined”. The lessons about grains and proteins were certainly more difficult than those about fruits and vegetables the previous week!
For the older kids, this information was much easier to teach, as many of our students had already had a prior knowledge about fiber and calories and refined grains upon which we could build and connect to healthy or unhealthy eating.
Although the lessons this week were considerably more challenging, I think the students and I both learned a lot! In fact, by the end of the summer, almost every single student answered the “true/false” question on his or her final evaluations about fiber correctly! Further proof, and one of my fondest memories from the summer program, occurred when one child exclaimed as he took his first bite of Lentil Oat Loaf. “This tastes soooo good – just like meatloaf!” he yelled, “AND it’s healthy because it’s made from lentils, which are a lean protein, instead of meat!” I was grinning ear to ear.
Our students had clearly learned a lot (and many of them really enjoyed the Lentil Oat Loaf!), but I was perhaps the one who learned the most. This difficult week taught me a lot about how to teach, especially youngsters, about nutrition. I came to realize that even if they could not explain to me the difference between whole vs. refined grains, they could still look at “brown” bread and “white” bread and tell me that the brown one was healthier. And when I came to that realization, it became clear what was most important in teaching small children about nutrition – exposure. After our Grains and Protein lesson, our students had at the very least heard the words fiber and calories and refined grains. They could at least tell me about the relative “healthiness” of grilled chicken versus fried chicken. Having that basic exposure to these words and ideas will certainly make learning about them later on that much easier, and I hope that maybe the next time they go grocery shopping with mom they’ll ask for the “brown bread” because it’s healthier. After the parent of a 5-year-old in our program told me that her daughter had come home and remarked that the fruit she was eating had fiber to help move food through her body, I don’t think I’m crazy to hope for such things!
Written by Emily Pia