Good nutrition is one key to a good education
Grafton – When reaching for an after-school snack, it can be very difficult for some children to choose carrots over chips, bananas over brownies.
But a diet that consists of fast food, soda and other unhealthy food items can have negative effects on a child's health that carries into adulthood.
The number of children who suff er from obesity, diabetes and other health-related issues due to poor diet is on the rise in America, and one teacher is giving her students the knowledge to make healthy choices, but also the skills they need to determine why one food is healthy and why another is not.
Sally Kent is a math and science teacher at Touchstone Community School in Grafton. Among the topics that she covers with her students each year is nutrition, where children learn the make-up of diff erent foods and determine what impact diff erent food elements have on their bodies.
"You can't just tell them what to eat and what not to eat. You have to give them the knowledge to make those decisions," Kent said. "There has to be some explanation of the diff erent elements so they have a greater depth of understanding."
Kent and co-teacher Katy Aborn have created diff erent food-related games and visuals to help children from pre-kindergarten to middle school better understand proper nutrition, which can be a concept that is difficult for children to understand.
"You can tell a 5-year-old that food is there to help them create strength and energy," Kent said, "but then we also have a bone puzzle that they can put together that shows them all of the pieces they need to make a complete bone."
Rather than tell children about the dangers of unhealthy eating, Kent presents food in a positive light, focusing on the benefits of making healthy choices. She doesn't suggest what foods the children should eat, but enables them to make a good choice on their own by arming them with information.
"We talk about why calories are necessary, why lipids [fats and oils] and carbohydrates are all necessary, but that there needs to be a balance," she said.
To illustrate this balance, Kent created manila folder "lunchboxes" that the students can fill with diff erent paper food elements. The diff erent sizes and shapes of the elements allow children to fit only a combination of pieces into their lunchboxes that creates a healthy meal.
The students then went around and made a list of common food items kids were bringing in their lunches, which Kent and Aborn turned into menus that listed each food's individual breakdown. The students use these cards determine which combination of foods will be healthy while creating a lunch that they would actually want to eat.
"It's so funny to have a child come up to you and say, 'I think I have too many carbohydrates in my lunch,' but it's a way to really illustrate the impact diff erent choices have," Kent said.
Kent said she has already seen a change in some of the students' lunches, most notably the number of children that are replacing their daily soda with a bottle of water. It's a single decision that she's hoping illustrates a lifelong change in the kids' outlook on their diets.
"It just shows that when students get actively involved in learning and reasoning … the likelihood of change is not guaranteed," she said, "but it's much greater."
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