Boosting nutrition

By Dick Mason, The Observer November 09, 2012 03:01 pm

Debra Houston, a fourth-grader at Greenwood  Elementary School, picks up a packet representing a food group while balancing a plastic object on her  head at a “Passport to Food, Fitness and  Fun’’ night in Greenwood Elementary School’s gym. DICK MASON - The Observer
Debra Houston, a fourth-grader at Greenwood Elementary School, picks up a packet representing a food group while balancing a plastic object on her head at a “Passport to Food, Fitness and Fun’’ night in Greenwood Elementary School’s gym. DICK MASON - The Observer

Kids discover healthy food options 

Blindfolds can help children see what tasty healthy food options they have.

The smiles on the faces of children at Greenwood Elementary School made this evident Tuesday at a “Passport to Food, Fitness and Fun” night. The overall objective of the program was to introduce children to alternatives for healthier eating. The healthy eating tips they received were the type aimed at tipping the scales in the battle against childhood obesity.

Blindfolds were one of many tools used to help Greenwood students discover how to make healthy choices. The blindfolds were used at a Mystery Fruit booth, one of eight stations at the event.

Children were blindfolded and then given nine types of fruit and asked to identify them. The fruits that most commonly stumped children were starfruit and mango. Both were among the fruits children found interesting and tasty according to Randi Smith, a student at EOU, which helped put on the program with the Oregon Health and Science School of Nursing at EOU, Union County Fit Kids, Northeast Oregon Area Health Education, the La Grande School District and Greenwood Elementary.

The starfruit that stumped and intrigued students comes from carmbola trees, which are native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and India. Starfruit is popular throughout Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and East Asia.

 While the Mystery Fruit station provoked surprised smiles, the nearby Blubber Burger booth in Greenwood’s gym triggered frowns. It showed the amount of fat in a typical hamburger at a popular fast food chain. Shortening, which served as the symbol of this fat, was spread over a hamburger bun and it was half an inch to an inch think.

The importance of a balanced diet was emphasized at many booths, but none more so than the Food and Fitness station. Children at this station had to balance a plastic object on their heads while walking a course on which they picked up objects representing various foods. Numbers were assigned to the foods based on their nutritional value.

“The balancing process symbolizes a balanced meal,” said Cody Allen, an EOU student who helped run the Food and Fitness booth.

His booth also had glass water bottles representing how much water people are supposed to drink. Men, according to the display, should drink three quarts of water a day and women should consume two quarts.

Children learned about what they should not drink at the Super Soda Tiny Sugar booth. Children learned that the consumption of pop is harmful because of the high sugar content. This point was hammered home with an excellent visual, a plastic bag filled with the amount of sugar a typical soft drink has.

Children were urged instead to treat themselves to an equally tasty seltzer mixed with 100 percent fruit juice. This drink would be preferable to soda pop because it has far less sugar and some nutritional value.

“They all seemed to like the drinks,” said EOU student Marna Gonzalez, who assisted at the event.

Children were advised to make seltzer drinks only with juices marked “100 percent fruit juice” since this meant that no refined sugar was added.

A Healthy Desserts booth also was popular at the food and fitness night. Booth visitors were shown how to make delicious fruit and yogurt parfaits as an alternative to sugar-and-fat-laden desserts like chocolate cake.

“One little girl said she would want these (the fruit and yogurt parfaits) at her birthday party,” said Emily Parker, a student at the OHSU School of Nursing at EOU. 

Eastern education instructor Zachary Heath helped oversee the “Passport to Food, Fitness and Fun” night. He credited its success to his students. 

“They are all very passionate about what they want to do. The students do a great job.”

Other EOU students who played a major role in putting on the program, Heath said, include Carrie Laurence, Courtney Nakashima, Emily Root and Elizabeth Simpson.

Heath said the response to the program has been so good that its organizers hope to offer the program at other Grande Ronde Valley elementary schools.