Nutritional sciences students educate elementary school kids on healthy eating

Marjorie S. Miller
December 08, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Most kids wouldn’t think twice about eating a brownie. But what if that brownie also included a healthy vegetable, such as black beans?

That was the idea — incorporating vegetables into everyday snacks — at one of the interactive booths at a community nutrition fair hosted by NUTR 456, Community Nutrition, as part of a fieldwork experience component of the course.

The community nutrition fair event, in its second year, was held in November at Ferguson Township Elementary School during its Community Education Extended Learning (CEEL) after-school program in partnership with the State College Area School District (SCASD). About 60 elementary school students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, attended.

“To improve the epidemic of childhood obesity, we must enhance the food and physical activity environment within communities and shape young children’s knowledge of healthy behaviors through education,” said course instructor Jennifer Savage Williams, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State. “The opportunity for undergraduates to engage in a community educational event provides them with the ability to translate their knowledge learned in the classroom into practice skills that can improve the community.”

The field experience is a project that students worked on the entire semester, and ultimately saw come to life at the health fair. This year, Savage Williams was awarded the Thomas M. Nardozzo Community Service Endowment, which provided student transportation to the event and the purchase of some activity supplies.

The first part of the project involved considering nutrition and health-related education needs of the elementary school children. The student groups then came up with themes for an interactive booth. Their booths, each of which contained an activity for the children, were proposed to the instructor and teaching assistants (TAs) of the Community Nutrition course. The themes were then incorporated into lesson plans, which were tested on Savage Williams, course TAs, student peers, and CEEL directors. Students practiced delivering their lesson plans in class — and provided feedback on their peers’ booth ideas — before they were implemented as part of the community education event.

“This project was a unique and valuable component of this course that truly elevated the educational experience for these students,” said doctoral student and TA Elizabeth Adams. “To help these students develop their ideas and put their classroom knowledge into action was incredibly rewarding.” 

At the veggie booth, vegetables were incorporated into common, popular foods, like black bean brownies and avocado chocolate pudding. Children sampled each food and guessed which vegetable was used as an ingredient in that food. The goal of putting vegetables into foods children like to eat is to help them understand that vegetables can taste good, are versatile, and can be added into any diet, said junior Paris Winston.

“We hope our display will encourage young students to try and experiment with more vegetables in the future,” Winston said. 

In addition to tasting foods with vegetables in them, Winston and her group also sent each child home with recipes booklets, so that children could make the foods they got to taste with their families.

Eight other interactive learning booths were presented during the fair, on topics such as food waste, seasonal foods, and how to build a well-balanced healthy family meal.

As part of her group project, "Helpful Bugs, Harmful Bugs: Bacteria in the Gut," Janelle Muller sought to educate the children on the beneficial bacteria found in the small intestine which play a vital role in keeping people healthy. The group also discussed prebiotic and probiotic foods.

“To keep the topic kid-friendly and fun, we discussed prebiotics as the foods helpful bugs like to eat and probiotics as the helpful bugs found in some foods,” Muller said. To apply this knowledge, children created yogurt parfaits, and were told how this easy and delicious snack is rich in probiotics.

Junior Abigail Jolley and her group created a “Rethink your Drink” display which focused on adding more water into the diet. The group emphasized not just enhancing the taste of water using strawberries and lemons, but also eating more water-dense foods such as cucumber and watermelon.

Jolley said while adequate water consumption is important on its own, it’s important to also teach young children the effects of dehydration, such as lack of focus and confusion, which can be especially harmful at school and in other learning settings.

For Xingqi Wang, a junior, teaching children about soy and its health benefits was the focus of his group’s booth. Children had the opportunity to see how soymilk was made from soybeans and taste soy snacks. Wang’s group also educated the students on where the soybean comes from, and what types of nutrients it has.

Senior Rebecca Harvey’s booth, “Cost Effective Creations,” focused on ways to make healthy foods at home without spending a lot of money. The group’s particular display was on nachos, and ways to make this food healthier by using whole grain tortilla chips, beans, low fat cheese, and salsa instead of sour cream.

Their exhibit also displayed prices of different nachos at local restaurants to help show the students their families can save money by making nachos at home. 

“We really wanted to showcase how to make healthier and less costly fun food at home with your families,” Harvey said, “and the importance of spending money wisely.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 08, 2017