|February 28, 2013
Kids and adults learn healthy eating habits
By Lailani Upham
(L to R) Mission Elementary first graders Elannah, Ameah, and Mady Jo and Lainey tightly close their eyes and prepare to guess at the secret fruit by the scent. (Lailani Upham photo)
ST. IGNATIUS — The “Buy, Eat, Live Better” program teaches adults and children at a very young age to cook, budget and handle food safely on the Flathead Reservation.
The way to do it is through hands-on and live lessons from Flathead Extension Nutrition Educator Ginger Pitts.
The program is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance - Education Program and the Montana State University in partnership with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and is used to bring the lessons to low-income families.
Healthy behaviors include making sure the plate is half fruits and vegetables, increasing physical activity, and maintaining appropriate calorie balance according to Pitts.
“Our goal is to provide basic nutrition and promote healthy lifestyles in a series of lessons,” says Pitts.
Lessons range from basic nutrition; strengthening cooking skills; teaching budget-keeping, making food dollars stretch, and safe food handling tools.
Third grader Cmomo participates in the “find the food safety mistakes” activity while Native Studies teacher Aileen Plant oversees and asks prompting questions. (Lailani Upham photo)
Pitts says many people have the misconception that pre-packaged foods are cheaper than home-cooked meals.
“With our current economy, we all need to save money on food. We want people to realize that home cooking is cheaper, healthier, and a fun activity for families.”
Pitts teaches both adult classes at the Working Innovations location in Polson and in the public schools on healthy eating and she says she is finding great results.
“In 2012 we saw a 75 percent improvement in healthy food choices in adult participants,” stated Pitts.
The youth nutrition lessons are a series of six and are taught in the first, third and fifth grade classes, explains Pitts.
The curricula lessons are called: Eating A Rainbow, Exploring MyPlate, and Mastering My Plate, and are grade-specific for first, third and fifth grade students.
Ms. Dean’s first grade class happily participates in Ms. Ginger’s exercise activity. (Lailani Upham photo)
“We use the ‘Choose My Plate’ to teach eating a balanced diet and we talk about ‘anytime foods’ and ‘sometime foods.’ We also encourage youth to be physically active.”
“I have to say, I love my job! I get to work with kids to encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and to be physically active. The students love the lessons and are really eager to try new foods. I see them in the store and they run up and tell me things like, ‘Mrs. Pitts – I am eating more veggies and I quit drinking pop.’ I have wonderful thank-you notes posted all over my walls from kids telling me about the healthy changes they have made. It is just so much fun.”
A Polson 5th grade student says, “I was drinking Kool-Aid or pop every day and since our lesson on milk, I have been only having it once a week and I have started drinking more milk and water.”
“I ran into a young mom who took the lessons two months ago and she said, ‘Hey, I built a pantry like you taught us and I didn’t run out of food stamps this month,’” Pitts beamed.
Ms. Ginger demonstrates how many teaspoons of sugar are in one Mountain Dew: 11 and half teaspoons tops it off. (Lailani Upham photo)
Pitts shared that during a grain lesson in a Polson third grade class, a teacher shared with her class she heard the grain lesson a few years ago for the first time and went home to check the cereal labels. “She was very surprised to find that her favorite cereals were the high sugar. She told her students that she made a choice right then and has not bought the ‘sometimes cereals’ since!”
A fifth grade student at Ronan Middle School stated, “I am eating way less junk food since we started the healthy eating lessons.”
According to a report gathered from Pitts, a Linderman Elementary student shared that he was reluctant to try new vegetables but since our discussions he has been trying them and has found out he likes several he didn’t like before.
A third grade student reports he stopped eating the high sugar cereals and is now eating whole grain, lower sugar cereals.
Another great example is of a mother who attended several of Pitt’s nutrition classes last spring and shared her story of losing weight. “I started really thinking about what you taught us about food. All I have done to lose this weight is eat healthier and walk every day. I’m eating the same amounts, just healthier foods-more fruits and vegetables. I used to carry chips, candy bars and fried cheese sticks with me. Now I carry oranges, pears and low-fat string cheese to snack on.”
For more information, recipes and games or sign up for an online class visit the “Buy, Eat. Live Better” website at www.buyeatlivebetter.org.
For nutrition class information contact Ginger Pitts, Flathead Reservation Extension Nutrition Educator at (406) 675-2700 ext. 7377.