Over the past four years, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching nutrition lessons to kindergarten through fifth grades at many of the elementary schools in southern Douglas County.

I really enjoy my job. Interacting with the students is a blast. And the staffs — from cafeteria to maintenance to administration — have been more than supportive of the OSU Extension Service endorsed program that I deliver as part of a SNAP-Ed and Mercy Foundation partnership.

As an Education Program Assistant, I present a weekly lesson on healthy foods, hygiene, and physical activity to approximately twelve plus classes during any given term. Part of that lesson includes the opportunity for students to sample recipes that are prepared with ingredients from the food groups we have discussed.

The students are generally receptive to the foods and, we hope, are taking what they learned in class and applying it to life at home. It always brings a smile to my face when I talk with a parent and they tell me that their child has been pretty vocal about whether or not the foods they are being served at home are healthy.

About a month from now, Halloween will kick off the school party season. Now everyone loves a good party.

And celebrating with students and staff is an important part of a school’s culture. But have you ever stopped to think about how many celebrations occur during the school year? Birthday parties, holiday celebrations and school-wide events can add up fast. Luckily, these celebrations provide great opportunities to promote a healthy lifestyle, provide consistent messages and create excitement around nutritious choices at school.

This year, make sure that you are helping your school support healthful eating habits that will enable our children to live productive lives, help them make healthier choices and reduce their risk of obesity.

Check out all of these suggestions from Food Hero’s “Healthy Classroom Celebrations” program:

  • When it comes to birthdays, work with your child’s teacher and the other parents to develop a “monthly birthday party.” One cake per month is healthier for the students and easier on parents’ pocketbooks. A child can still be recognized on their special day – being the teacher’s helper; wearing a special crown, sash, button or badge all day; choosing a game or activity the class does for the last few minutes of the school day.
  • Use a cookie cutter or melon baller to cut fruits, veggies, and sandwich fixings into fun shapes.
  • Have a scavenger hunt related to the holiday.
  • Dip fruits in low-fat yogurt, pudding or Food Hero Pumpkin Fruit Dip; try veggies with Food Hero Ranch Dressing. Recipes for these tasty dips can be found on www.foodhero.org.
  • Sing and dance to holiday music. Have a mini talent show.
  • Have students create a masterpiece with food — draw faces on mandarin oranges or string cheese packages for fall, create a tree on a platter with broccoli or cauliflower to celebrate winter, package vegetables or trail mix so that students can make a food butterfly to herald the arrival of spring, arrange fruit to make a rainbow for summer. Pinterest has lots of great ideas related to seasonal food art.
  • Give favors like pencils or stickers instead of snacks.
  • Set up fruit, yogurt, and various toppings so that students can make a parfait, snack / trail mix, or fruit kabobs.
  • Have a tasting party with fruits and veggies.
  • Create a banner, cards, bracelets, or head bands to celebrate the holiday.

You can also find lots of great “Kid Approved” recipes like Do-It-Yourself Trail Mix, Banana Bobs, and Fruit Pizza on www.foodhero.org . All three are delicious and great alternatives to the sweets traditionally served at school or home parties. Party On!

Kathy Bates is a Family and Community Health Education Program Assistant for OSU Extension Service of Douglas County. Kathy can be reached by e-mail kathy.bates@oregonstate.edu or phone at 541-672-4461.

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