Making health sense

Program teaches low-income students how to whip up nutritious snacks on a budget

There is a new program at University Elementary School, 1613 S. University Road, that teaches students nutrition and basic cooking skills.

The Washington State University Food Sense program comes to schools throughout the area where at least 50 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches. The program is available in Spokane Public Schools, Deer Park, Riverside, West Valley and East Valley school districts. In Central Valley School District, there are Food Sense programs at Barker High School, North Pines Middle School, Broadway and Opportunity elementary schools, Early Learning Center and now University Elementary.

In October 2009, 50 percent of students at University were eligible for free or reduced lunches. As of March 2011, that number had jumped to 57.7 percent.

“Our free and reduced percentage has increased so much,” said Principal Sue Lennick. She said the Food Sense program will help empower her students to make healthy choices.

She has noticed there are fifth-graders in the school who consume potato chips, corn nuts or energy drinks in the morning. One student told her the only thing he or she knew how to cook was eggs.

Wednesday morning was the first time kindergarteners visited the room dedicated to Food Sense. Food Sense educators Amanda Liberty and Shirley Stewart first talked about the importance of washing your hands.

“Who thinks they are really good at hand-washing?” Liberty asked the students. Many raised their hands. She explained that in order to get your hands really clean, you must wash for at least 20 seconds, or as long as it takes to sing the ABC song. Liberty changed the words to the end of the song to, “Now I know my hands are clean, all my fingers in between.”

She read them a story about a princess who loved getting dirty and needed to learn why she should wash her hands.

When the hand-washing lesson was finished, everyone learned how to make a healthy snack – fruity bugs.

Made with three dried apricots, two raisins and eight pretzel sticks, the students were a little nervous. Some of them said they didn’t like raisins or pretzels, but Liberty urged them all to try everything on their plate at least once. If they didn’t like it once they tried it, they didn’t have to eat it.

“I used to not like pretzels, but now I do,” exclaimed Gavin Hodgson, a student in Jeanne Termath’s all-day kindergarten class.

“I like apricots,” said Jayden Smith.

Liberty told them if they didn’t have dried apricots at home, they could make it with different fruits such as strawberries, bananas or apple pieces.

In the coming months, students will learn to make homemade granola or green smoothies – a drink made from raw spinach, green apples, green grapes and blended with yogurt. Liberty said if the drink isn’t sweet enough for them, they could add some banana. Next month, they will learn how to make skillet apple pie, made with a tortilla for the crust.

Lennick said teachers come to the Food Sense classes with their students so they can continue the lessons of healthy eating in their own classrooms.

Liberty said she has a food budget of $84 per week to divide between the three schools she visits.

“We teach students how to eat healthy on a budget,” she said. Food Sense is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington State University and other community agencies.

When the class is done for the day, the students get to take home the recipes they learned so they can try them at home.

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