Food for Thought at STEM Summer Institute

August 5, 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, and the kids are hungry.  Snack supplies – wheat bread, jars of peanut butter, halved bananas – are waiting for them on a table in the front of the classroom.  But before the snacking can commence, there’s a lesson planned for these kids about nutritional basics.

This is “Kids in the Kitchen,” a weekly program offered at the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Summer Institute being held at East Austin College Prep, in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Club and the KDK Harman Foundation.  Southwest Key has partnered with the Junior League of Austin and the Capital Area Food Bank to teach the kids at camp about healthy eating and lifestyle choices.  Today’s lesson is about food groups.

Two young women in blue aprons lead the class with one key visual: a brightly colored food pyramid poster that has been prominently displayed on the white board.  Each student has their own folder filled with an array of nutritional materials for them to peruse and take with them, from their own copy of the food pyramid to the recipe for the snack they’ll be making at the end of class.

The afternoon begins with a short quiz to gauge the students’ knowledge about food groups.  Once completed, class takes off.

“Can anyone give me examples of foods that belong in the grains group?”

Hands shoot up as kids give responses that include cereal, bread, and tortillas.

The teacher continues along this vein, explaining the differences between each of the food groups and their respective daily recommended serving sizes.

Every so often, there is a small hiccup in the kids’ understanding of which foods belong where.  A common misconception arises: “Does jam count as a fruit?”

“No,” the teacher tells the class, “because you wouldn’t ever eat enough jam for it to make up a whole serving of fruit.  You only spread a little bit on bread here and there, and besides, eating a whole cup of jam with a spoon sounds pretty gross to me.”  The kids giggle at the thought, and the matter is resolved.

The teacher continues, “Also, jam has a lot of added sugar in it, so it really belongs in the sweets and oils group, which we shouldn’t be eating very much of.  In the new plate chart we were looking at, there isn’t even a space for sweets and oils.  Those foods are only for special occasions.”

After their review, it’s time for a challenge.  The kids are divided into teams, and each team is given a blank sheet of paper that has a different food group name at the top.  Whichever team can come up with the most examples of foods in their category wins a prize.

After a bustling three minutes, the winners are announced.  The fruit group has come up with 26 different entries, with exotic fruits such as figs and pomegranates making an appearance on their list.

The teachers are proud of the kids, and the kids are proud of themselves.  After a brief post-test (the exact same test that was used as the pre-test, to examine how much the students retained from the class), the kids are ready to assemble their snacks for the day: open-faced peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

As the kids slice up their bananas and slather peanut butter on their bread, it is clear that they’ve gotten more out of this hour in class than just a tasty meal.  With childhood obesity on the rise, it is now more important than ever to teach children healthy habits from the get-go.  Reviewing the food pyramid may not seem like much, but the more kids are taught to think about what they’re eating, the more likely they’ll choose to pick up an apple over a candy bar when hunger strikes.

This “Kids in the Kitchen” session was only the first in a series of four throughout July.  With this class as a launching pad, the kids are off to a running start.  Wonder what’s on the plate for next week?

– Kelle Kampa
Communications Intern
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Entry filed under: East Austin, East Austin Children's Promise, EAustin College Prep Academy, Education, Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood.

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