Healthy eating hits youngsters
Published 10:16 am Thursday, January 28, 2016
Kindergartners in Austin are getting a whole new look at what snacking means thanks to a recent state grant.
Woodson Kindergarten Center was chosen to receive a grant to fund the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which encourages healthy eating in young students for the 2015-16 school year.
Woodson Principal Jessica Cabeen explained Austin Public Schools dietitian Jen Haugen applied for and got the grant over the summer, so Woodson students were able to start snacking right away at the beginning of the year with the students on the 45/15 calendar.
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The students eat the snacks provided by the grant three days a week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We’re doing three days a week just to make sure that we were able to get the right quantities,” Cabeen said. “Because with a snack that’s perishable we wanted to make sure that we were able to store it and we were able to get it to kids in time. But it has gone really well so our plan is to extend it to five days a week next year.”
The program is free for the students and families, which Cabeen said is a big savings for families as they previously had to pay for snack at Woodson.
As part of this program, the Austin Public Library hosted a Look and Cook class Thursday for Woodson students and their families. The free event gave families a “taste” of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program through various activities like Taste the Rainbow, Look and Cook, Fruit-a-licous Breakfast Cups, and dancing to the “Five Food Groups” song with Cabeen and teacher Jason Denzer. Cabeen said the event went very well, with at least 40 or 50 students and their families attending.
“The outreach was awesome, and it was neat to see the kids and their families trying a variety of fruits and vegetables last night,” she said.
She explained it is important for the students to get a taste of healthy eating at a young age.
“In kindergarten you have your academic learning, your social and emotional, and it’s also important to try and start your foundation of healthy living too,” she said. “And so providing kids some exposure to fruits and vegetables that they may not have seen before or tried before in an environment where everybody’s trying it, really cultivates that willingness to try some new things and then help support families at home to encourage them to have that fruits and vegetable component in their dietary plan at home.”
The program has helped Woodson students snack on fresh fruits and vegetables such as pears, grapes, green beans, plum, bell pepper slices, zucchini slices, grape tomatoes, celery, cantaloupe, oranges, jicama, broccoli, strawberries and more.
“It’s pretty much anything that Jen [Haugen] can get kind of her hands on that’s in season or good quality,” Cabeen said. “And we have an amazing kitchen staff here that bags it all up for the kids, so it’s like individual snacks.”
Along with the fresh fruit and vegetable snacks, teachers are incorporating nutrition education during snack time as well with the goal of getting young school children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, improving eating habits and helping schools create healthier school environments.
With the Woodson greenhouse, the students will also get to learn about composting. If there are fruits or vegetables the students don’t eat or don’t finish, or stems from the food, they will be able to put them in the compost for the garden. The garden will also get a more permanent structure, made of fiber glass instead of a tarp, which will allow students to use the structure all year long. The structure was being put up by volunteers but was delayed by the holidays and cold weather. The Kiwanis Club of Austin donated $4,000 to the greenhouse in November of 2015, helping secure the new structure. Cabeen hopes to continue partnering with the group in the future, and anyone else who would like to get involved.
“We really are grateful for the community and Austin Public Schools for finding this grant for us and applying for it, and we’re excited to have it back next year for all five days a week,” she said.