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Read This, Eat That: Storybooks Teaching Students to Eat Healthier


Students never know what fun they might find in their school’s library — exciting stories, brave characters and — at Buchanan Primary School (BPS) at least — delicious-smelling treats.

Paige Barger, the media specialist at BPS, has been teaching students at Buchanan Primary to take their imagination and creativity to new heights — and their taste buds to new and healthier places with the help of the Kids ‘N the Kitchen mobile teaching cart from Tanner Health System’s Get Healthy, Live Well.

Kids ‘N the Kitchen is a program designed by Get Healthy, Live Well to teach healthy cooking skills to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

At BPS, students are allotted weekly time periods in the media center with Barger. During this period, she’s been using the Kids ‘N the Kitchen cart to help teach students the importance of healthy eating by supplementing what students are reading and learning in the classroom with tasty lessons with the food cart.

“This cart is a fabulous tool to teach with,” said Barger. “It’s made it easy to find ways to be creative and make healthy recipes with the students. I’ve connected it with storybooks I’m reading with them and to authors we’re studying. It gives them a change of pace and helps hold their interest, and it makes them more excited about learning.”

This is Barger’s third year using the Kids ‘N the Kitchen cart at BPS. She teaches lessons to more than 400 students in pre-K through second grades. Barger’s second grade classes are covering the regions of Georgia and the different produce that is grown there, such as apples. In a recent lesson, she cooked cinnamon apples with apples, cinnamon and honey.

“Last year, I did an author study every month, where I’d pull books and I would find something that I could cook that could be associated with that particular author,” said Barger. “We also cover storybook characters and learn about famous Americans and various historical figures, such as George Washington Carver and what he invented with the peanut. This year, I am planning to expand the lessons to coincide with other subjects that the students are covering in their classrooms like math, science and social studies. For example, in an upcoming lesson this November, we’ll talk about the history of Native Americans’ healthy Thanksgiving foods.”

It’s no secret that kids rarely like trying new foods, but during her lessons, Barger shows students that they shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, just as they can’t really know that they don’t like a new food until they try it.

“In these lessons, I’ve had very few students who have just completely refused to try a new food that we’ve prepared,” she said. “They seem more willing and enthusiastic about trying something here in class, whereas at home, they may be a little reluctant to try it because their parents put it on their dinner plate. We’ve also found that if the parents don’t prepare a food because they don’t like it, it often means that their child might not have an opportunity to try it or experience it.”

She said that’s partly why it’s become important to teach these lessons about healthy foods to students now while they’re young because it can make a difference for them when they’re older.

“We know these are times of convenience; there's so much prepackaged foods being sold these days, and, unfortunately, the easiest choices aren't always the healthiest options," said Barger. “That raises the importance of knowing the nutritional values of the foods that we’re eating — not only for adults, but for children, too.”

That’s why each year, she starts the kitchen cart lessons with an introduction to healthy cooking.

“We try to build a foundation of healthy principals when we’re cooking with the carts, because a lot of our students haven’t had much exposure to the kitchen. That’s why we place an emphasis in the earlier lessons to cover the basics of food groups and nutritional values, as well as kitchen and food safety,” said Barger.

And Barger’s lessons are growing beyond the Kids ‘N the Kitchen carts. Last year, Buchanan Primary School was awarded the Georgia Shape School Physical Activity and Nutrition Grant, which granted the school $5,000 to help build a school garden for students to grow produce, and learn about agriculture and horticulture. Part of the requirement of the grant was to have taste tests and expose students to new foods.

Barger said the cart has been helpful there, too.

“We grew lettuce, cabbage, peppers, bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, cantaloupes and watermelons,” said Barger. “We’ve even had a few aquaponics gardens where I grew bean sprouts in the library. They were so amazed that you could grow something that way and then just eat it. They weren’t always impressed with how they tasted, but they were intrigued with how a plant food could be grown in the water.”

Barger said she’s been able to pique the interest of her students’ parents, too.

“In the past we’ve had parents who have emailed us asking for the recipe that we made in class because their child really liked it and wanted to try it at home,” said Barger. “Some of my students have even mentioned being in the grocery store with their parents and pointing out a food that they’ve seen and tasted here with the kitchen cart. They said they even remembered what it tasted like and how much they liked it.”

More information about the Kids ‘N the Kitchen program and Get Healthy, Live Well is available online at GetHealthyLiveWell.org.

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