One of the hardest tasks of my job is changing the mindset of individuals so that they make healthier choices every day. Many adults grew up eating a certain way which makes it very difficult to eat less, avoid high fat foods, or to maybe stop drinking soda. This is a struggle many of us endure and it takes a lot of time and effort to change these habits. I remember when I was a child I was told “you can’t leave the table until you clean your plate.” I still have a hard time reminding myself that I can save the rest of a meal for later. Had I been taught to eat until I was full or to eat my vegetables first, it would have taken a lot less effort to change the way I viewed meals.
This is one reason why I love working with children. Children are like a sponge, they soak up everything they see, hear, taste and then make a decision based on that experience. Over the past nine weeks, our Extension 4H agent, Daniel Collins, and I, have been teaching a nutrition program to Butler Elementary’s third grade classes. We have covered various topics such as MyPlate, the food groups, healthy drink choices, physical activity, and eating a healthy breakfast. At the end of each lesson, the children try a healthy snack. We have the occasional “yuck” faces, but for the most part many of the kids have really enjoyed tasting new foods and several of them have even said they bought it at the store with their parents the following week.
Last week, I had the joy of teaching a healthy breakfast lesson. At this point we have had all 275 children for seven weeks, so this was a great time to see what they have learned. We played a game with breakfast food cards and the students were to put together a healthy breakfast that they could eat before school. Watching the children go through the cards and decipher healthy verse non-healthy items was incredible. Our first week the children weren’t sure what foods went into each group, and now they were able to plan out an entire meal. The most exciting part was hearing them discuss the foods together (they were doing this in groups) and answering each others questions. Not only were the children learning, but they were teaching others during the process. I encourage them after every lesson to go home and share what they learn with their family.
Health education is a tough task. Behavior change is not easy and there are a lot of controversies regarding a healthy diet. However, my job is to educate on research based information. I hope that if you have a third grader at Butler, they have served as a health educator for you and your family. Remember that as you try things that may be healthy around children, your reaction to those foods will effect how children perceive those as well. It is programs like Steps to Health that make me proud to be an Extension agent, and I can’t wait to do more of them throughout this county!
Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the Sampson County Center at 910-592-7161.