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Food for thought

First-graders learn the importance of eating right

Christine Metz

— Kayla Pennington and Alllie Aurin sat on the floor of the Sheraton Hotel pointing to the plate of snacks before them.

The cheese stick and chocolate milk, they said, were part of the dairy group and the piece of melon, the fruit group. The oatmeal raisin cookie was a little tricky, but eventually they determined it belong to the sweets at the top of the food pyramid, but could also be in the grain group.

“You should try to eat certain amounts of foods and not that much sweets. If we eat foods together, sometimes it is better,” Pennington said.

Those are wise words for a first-grader just beginning to learn the importance of a healthy diet and the building blocks of the food pyramid.

Pennington and Aurin were part of Celia Dunham’s class and the 64 first-graders at Strawberry Park Elementary School who completed their five-week course on healthy eating at the Sheraton Friday.

As teachers were given diplomas for each of their students, these graduates finished up their course with chef hats atop their head while touring the Sheraton.

For the second year, Sheraton’s executive chef, Jacques Wilson has put on a five-week course to teach the first-graders about the food pyramid.

With the help of executive sous chef Scott King, Wilson came in once a week for five weeks to teach the students about eating a balanced diet every day drawing from the grains, dairy, fruit, vegetable and protein food groups.

“It’s something you should start at an early age. And each year continue to look at the pyramid and understand it better,” Wilson said.

Those points were well learned as Aurin cited on the last day of the program the healthy eating habits she had retained from Wilson’s lessons.

“You should eat six grains a day,” Aurin said. “And, wash your hands before you eat.”

Bring in foods from different food groups for students to try, Wilson’s classes are a different way, and teachers said more effective way, for the children to learn about the food pyramid.

“They talk about (Wilson) all year,” Dunham said of last year’s class of first graders. “They really have an idea of the pyramid.”

The American Culinary Federation in conjunction with Uncle Ben’s Rice, M&M and Mars candy and the Sheraton sponsor Wilson’s classes. Those companies made it possible for Wilson to prepare food for the students to try.

For many of those students, those foods brought a handful of culinary surprises as they tried mangos, spinach tortillas, smoothies and rice pudding.

“It’s getting them to try different recipes and bring them home to their parents,” Wilson said. “To start thinking outside the box of everyday meals and getting the pyramid diet in.”

Aurin said her favorite treat was a hot dog, rice and cheese wrapped in a spinach tortilla and other students in Dunham’s class raved about the fruit dipped in chocolate. Dunham said students ate foods their parents said they would never try at home.

“We get to eat lots of things that we never tried before,” Pennington said.

Wilson said these students are learning nutritional facts that many adults might not know, like nuts and beans are part of the protein food group.

But, parents can also get a chance to experience new culinary treats as Wilson sends home a copy of the recipes the student’s try at school.

Sharing the importance of a balanced diet is on Wilson’s agenda as he said it is something that all first grades throughout Routt and Moffat County should learn.

Wilson introduced the idea to first grade teacher Lora McGinn, who warmed to it immediately. McGinn said Wilson called her asking if he could teach a class of 20 students under the AFC’s children nutrition program, McGinn said she asked him if he could teach all of Strawberry Park’s first grade students.

“He is really mellow with them, its great,” McGinn said. “He’s very repetitive and understands how first graders learn.”

The program is part of the first grade health curriculum that also focuses on healthy relationships and safety.

But, without Wilson’s lessons and corporate sponsors the students would never get to eat their way through the food pyramid.


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