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Lessons in Nutrition

By Desert Healthcare District
Desert Springs Middle School students enjoy apples during a mobile farmers’ market visit. Photo courtesy of the Desert Healthcare District

Do you know how to eat an artichoke? How about a pomegranate or kiwi?

These questions reflect a real consideration by those who teach children in public schools about healthy eating. If you’ve never been exposed to the aforementioned fruits and vegetables, there’s a good chance you won’t know how to eat them and benefit from their nutrients.

A pilot program presented by FIND Food Bank and the Desert Healthcare District gives Desert Hot Springs students access to seasonal produce. Using the Harvest of the Month curriculum through the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention branch of the California Department of Public Health, Desert Healthcare District Health Educator Vanessa Smith teaches students about the nutrients that foods contain, the daily amount of those nutrients a body needs, and the importance of basic information on food labels.

The hands-on component of the lesson is provided courtesy of a mini farmers’ market that FIND sets up at schools. In early October, Desert Springs Middle School was visited by the mobile market.

“The presentation was short (20 minutes) but students received snacks, information and even played games to test their skills while out and about, which can help them make healthier choices when shopping,” Smith said.

Initially, the market was planned as an opportunity to educate and serve about 500 students in nutrition classes.

“The coaches had a better idea,” said Lorena Marroquin, director of community impact for FIND. “They wanted to serve all of the students. We were able to serve all 1,000 students. That was a great idea to provide all of the snacks.”

The snacks consisted of apples – produce is integral to FIND’s mission – and granola bars. Students were slow to approach the market displays, but soon warmed to the interactive lesson, Marroquin said.

“The thing with middle-schoolers is that they never tell you what they are thinking,” Smith asserted. “But seeing them enjoy the apples and being respectful to the information is the best way to say that the students appreciated the market.”

For Debbie Espinosa, FIND Food Bank CEO, the impact of the health education program is long term because it goes beyond feeding the students. Eating nutritious foods helps them perform better in school because they’re more cognizant, and potentially reduces childhood obesity and diabetes, she says.

“While they’re learning how to eat, we’re teaching them to eat healthy, rather than reversing bad habits, which is difficult to do,” adds Espinosa.

The pilot program is expected to be presented at other Desert Hot Springs schools through 2018.

For more information about the Desert Healthcare District’s healthy initiatives, visit www.dhcd.org.

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