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Kale and Hearty: Healthy Kids' Buffet Teaches Hands-on Nutrition

Fifth graders at St. Louis School got a taste of a healthy diet. And they liked it. Even kale. Seriously.

Who would’ve thought? Kids love kale.

At least when it’s crispy and likened to chips.

Kale chips were one of the more popular items at Friday’s Healthy Food Buffet at St. Louis School. The program was the brainchild of health teacher Zulma Whiteford and Janice Schneider, a St. Louis School parent and dietician at the USDA.

The buffet was a culmination of a curriculum that focused on nutrition, food labels and the USDA’s “My Plate” diagram; an updated food pyramid focusing on the types and amounts of foods needed for a nutritious diet.

“We want to remind students – and their parents – what it is we’re aiming for in a nutritious diet,” Schneider said.

During the buffet, seven tables were set up with a different food selection at each: fruit kabobs; vegetarian chili; cheese quesadillas; edamame; hummus; maple granola; and kale chips.

Food allergies were taken into consideration during the buffet preparation, Whiteford said, thanks to the school’s Allergy and Anaphylaxis committee, which took part in the food selection process.

Students spent a few minutes at each table, trying out foods that, in some cases, they’d never eaten before. Some of the dishes were healthier versions of more familiar foods.

Lisa Ferraro and Hope Marlo, parent volunteers, manned the quesadilla station. Quesadillas were something many of the kids had eaten at home, but some of the options – low-fat cheese, whole wheat tortillas – were new to the students and parents.

Parents were learning alongside the students.

“We are learning, as parents, what we might set out for our families” that is healthy and tasty, Ferraro said.

“And the children are learning what each food will do for their bodies,” Marlo added.

Chili was another food that many of the students had eaten before, but there was a twist. 

“What do you think about the tofu?” Maureen Jameson asked students at the chili table. With different beans, spices, vegetables and dairy-free sour cream, it was also vegan.

“Eh, why not?” said Sophia Rosso. It was the first time the fifth grader had tasted tofu, and she said, “It’s pretty good.”

And then there were the kale chips. Tossed in a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkled with a touch of salt, baked Kale takes on a crispy, melt-in-your-mouth texture that while retaining it's place as one of the healthiest foods around.

“This is the first time I’ve tasted kale,” Sydney ChooQuan, reaching for another chip.

“I wouldn’t have tried it before, but I like it. Is it fried?”

ChooQuan's mother, Rachel, looked over with a smile as she manned the hummus table. "I see the reaction from the kids and I know I can bring this home to my daughter," she said. 

At each table, students were asked to rate the food in terms of looks, taste, smell, how it felt in their mouths and overall satisfaction.

Once the students cycled through each table, Schneider gave a quick presentation complete with less-than-appetizing props, to show the students why they should be mindful of the foods they eat.

“Who knows what this represents?” she asked, holding up two hunks of matter, one yellow, translucent and bumpy, and the other pink and streamlined.

Hands shot up, but the answer was elusive. 

The yellow blob, Schneider said, represented one pound of fat; the pink block, a pound of muscle. Sitting in her hands, there was not much to make of the two, though judging by the groans of the students, the fat was just “gross.”

To put it into perspective, she called a volunteer up. Adam Fairbanks came to the front of the room where Schneider draped a harness over his head. Connected to it, around the waist was 20 pounds of “fat,” the same yellow, bumpy substance she had held in her hands earlier.

“Adam, lay off the chips!” someone shouted from the back. 

Schneider reiterated that if the students wanted to keep the fat off, they should follow the guides of the USDA My Plate, which recommends a diet comprised of vegetables, fruits, grains protein and dairy in similar, but not equal amounts (see attached photo.)

The program was an overwhelming success, Zulma said. Parents have been requesting more information about the recipes and every family received a recipe booklet.

Whitford’s classes (two participated in the buffet) are the last two periods on Friday afternoons. It can be tough to keep their attention. Planning the buffet kept them interested and involved in their lessons.

Colleen Craig, director of development, joined the students to snap some photos and try some foods.

She left pleasantly surprised at how successful it had been. Sure, kids are adventurous with their foods, she said. “But kale chips?” she said. “Are you kidding me?”

No joke, the kids loved them. 

MLZ March 09, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Dear JaySmith - this Dietician is a parent at that school and volunteered her time and energy for these 5th graders! None of YOUR tax dollars were spent there!
Brandie Jefferson March 09, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Hi Jay, Janice Schneider is a parent volunteer and St. Louis School is a private, Catholic school.
Zulma Whiteford March 09, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Dear Jay Smith, I am sorry that you came to your own conclusions prior to gathering all the facts. 1. The U.S. government employee is the mother of a student at the school [who volunteered to help on her own time] 2. It is a private school where the parents pay directly for the education of their children 3. Establishing healthy eating habits and reducing childhood obesity will reduce future expenditures on health care. Perhaps the world would be a better place, if everyone looked within themselves and found the time to selflessly make a difference in someone else's life.

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