It can be easy to only eat the foods we already love and that are in our nearby surroundings. In Wisconsin elementary school classrooms, encouragement to try two bites of a new food is a great way to expand those horizons. In addition, helping students understand their food environments, from positive to negative reinforcements, can help them make healthier choices.
When the schoolyear started in September 2020, SNAP-Ed funded nutrition educators worked with Walworth County,WI classroom teachers to find ways to keep students engaged and learning about nutrition and physical activity. They also had to adhere to safety precautions related to COVID-19. While virtual programs were growing with pre-recorded lessons and asynchronous activities, Walworth elementary teachers were looking for live instruction to keep their students active and engaged. New to teaching in the classroom, nutrition educator Lisa Krolow had to make her virtual classes for elementary-aged learners both engaging and informative from afar.
Krolow worked to develop sessions that allowed students to move around their physical classroom, even as the instruction was confined to a virtual platform. Using Read for Health with two 1st grade classes, the sessions started with the book “The Two Bite Club.” This book set the foundation for
each of the 34 students to participate in the club and track their own tastings on a chart with stickers for five weeks. To earn a sticker on the chart, students needed to report what they tried, if they had at least two bites of a new food, and what they thought of it. The chart created a physical document of students’ activities.
Similarly, Krolow spent time with five 4th grade classrooms exploring the ideas of Food Environments. A total of 97 students were reached, including English and Spanish-speaking learners. During this Food Day Curriculum lesson, discussions centered on how our surroundings can impact the decisions we make about what we do, or do not, eat. Prior to the lesson, Krolow had sent green smiley faces and red frowning faces to the classroom. Using a PowerPoint presentation, students were shown images of billboards, bumper stickers, grocery stores, advertisements -- all sorts of elements they might see when moving around in the real, or virtual world. As the images came on the screen, students held up faces to show if they thought the scene was one promoting a healthy environment, or a less healthy one.
Krolow found that learning could be organic, with students discussing and teaching each other from a prompt as simple as an image of a fruit or a fast-food restaurant. As they thought about food environments, students were engaging in early, informal conversations that connect to work around policy, systems, and environments.
Identifying aspects of surroundings can come through even with games as simple as I-spy. In fact, that kind of attention to detail led one 2nd grader to notice the MyPlate icon on a bag of dried cranberries that most students avoided eating in the breakfasts. Once she pointed out the newly familiar image, she got the whole class involved, making sure everyone gave the new food a try. The energy around paying attention to details, paired with the encouragement to try just two bites, had led many in the class to expand their eating habits.