To me, a nutritious meal is enjoyable and necessary. For many children, however, healthy food, such as vegetables and fruits, is not enjoyable or tolerable. It can be a chore to teach children to eat well. Most schools do not have staff who regularly encourage children to eat broccoli and salad, but at Ellis Elementary it does happen.
While visiting the summer food program on pizza day, I saw most of the students heading to their lunch tables with pizza, milk, a raisin cookie and possibly the fruit plate. On a rare occasion, a child would grab the salad, carrots or broccoli. I could not understand why the fruits and vegetables were left alone, it was a great spread. The broccoli was perfectly cooked, not soggy or hard. Salad included romaine lettuce, tomatoes and carrots; raw carrot sticks were also available. For the fruit, there was fresh watermelon or apple sauce.
Towards the end of the program, one different teacher led her students to the lunch line. A young girl touched the teacher’s arm as she walked by and began a conversation about her muscles. “Yes, it’s a strong muscle and you can get muscles by eating what?” asked the teacher. “Vegetables” said a few girls and the teacher in unison. I attempted to joke with the teacher about the likelihood of the students actually eating the veggies and she adamantly disagreed and pointed to her students. “We have been talking about it this summer and I let them know that I would not let my daughter eat just pizza for lunch. They know vegetables are good for them and they’ll eat them [vegetables].”
Sure enough, as I looked at the students she led in, they were in fact taking at least one, if not two servings of the vegetables along with the fruit. But, does that prove they will eat the veggies? For this class, yes. The teacher stood with the students and encouraged them to eat well. When they came to empty their trays, this class did not have much to add to the compost pile–they had eaten their veggies!
This teacher put the nutritional need for vegetables into the students’ minds, showed love by caring for their well-being as she cares for her own daughter, encouraged healthy habits at the table and monitored that the lessons were followed. These actions brought success for her classroom. Students learned, not from a poster or school-wide lesson, but from one person taking time to effect one class at a time.