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Bath, ME (December 9, 2021) - Once a month, students at Dike Newell Elementary School are visited by Mid Coast Hospital’s Allison Messier, MPH, a nutritional educator who is introducing students to new fruits and vegetables. This month the food they’re trying is “squishy” and “orange” as the students describe it: cooked butternut squash.
On a nation-wide scale, Messier’s program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education, called “SNAP-Ed,” teaches people how to shop for and cook healthy and budget-friendly meals. One of SNAP-Ed’s classes, Pick a Better Snack, is perfect for elementary school students; lessons consists of a nutrition education lesson and a food tasting of fruits or vegetables. The curriculum introduces students to healthy foods they might not otherwise encounter and shows how fruit and vegetable consumption is important for overall health.
In Mrs. Costello’s kindergarten class, Messier starts by introducing students to the food of the month – winter squash. She talks about the variety of squashes available, how they can be prepared, and about their nutritional value. In some classes she may read a children’s book or lead an activity depending on the age of the students. When it comes to the taste test, any student who tries the food of the month gets an “I tried it!” sticker.
“I love it when I announce the food of the day and students say they aren’t going to try it but wind up liking it,” said Messier. “It’s always fun to change their perception on food. The hope is that the ‘I tried it!’ sticker will spark conversation around nutrition at home.”
Messier tries to serve fruits and vegetables in their raw form whenever possible. Sometimes the foods are new to the teachers, too.
“One time we tried raw sweet potato, and I think everyone was surprised how good it was. I even prefer to eat them raw now myself,” Messier said.
Maine SNAP-Ed is funded by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through a contract with the Maine Department of Health & Human Resources and administered by the University of New England. To qualify, a school must have 50% or more of their student body on free and reduced lunch.
“It’s extremely important that families fill out forms for free and reduced lunch so that our school can continue to benefit from programs like this,” said DNS Principal Jennifer McKay. “There is no downside to filling out the form; the more families who participate, the more support DNS receives.”
Messier hopes the SNAP-Ed program will be able to expand into other schools, regardless of free and reduced lunch rates.
“Nutrition education is important for all children. Learning how to make healthy food choices will benefit them now as students and later as adults.”