Kindergartners get jump on nutrition education
During her 29 years in the public school system, dietitian Sylvie Beaudry has played a role in encouraging thousands of students to develop healthy eating habits.
Her latest initiative is a colourful nutrition passport that will be distributed to 1,600 kindergarten students who start school on Wednesday when classes resume at the English Montreal School Board after the summer break.
Dubbed the F.A.B. 4 (Feed a Brain with the 4 Food Groups) nutrition passport, the booklet is being rolled out this week by the board’s Nutrition and Food Services department.
Each week in September, the kindergarten students will learn about one of the four food groups and will have their passport stamped by their teacher if they draw a specific food or bring in food from home.
The passport has colouring and counting exercises that will help the youngsters learn about what foods are good for them.
Teachers will be encouraged to bring in baskets of food to expose the students to things they may not have tried at home. By the end of the month, the students will better understand what comprises a healthy meal, said Beaudry, coordinator of the nutrition department.
“We want to convey the message that a healthy body will help them have a healthy brain and will help them learn,” Beaudry said in an interview. “We want to make it a tradition at the EMSB that the first day of school you receive a (nutrition) passport. It shows that schools take nutrition seriously.”
The board is launching the program Wednesday morning at Edward Murphy elementary school in the east end.
The new educational tool is part of a board-wide campaign to encourage students of all ages to “eat, grow and learn.” Although the idea for the passport was Beaudry’s, she said several of her colleagues at the EMSB participated in the project.
Beaudry and her fellow EMSB dietitians try to keep abreast of food trends among Montreal teenagers As a result, fish tacos will make their debut in high-school cafeterias this school year.
The nutrition team is constantly revamping the menu as students have become more keen to eat salads, vegetarian food and Mexican dishes.
Her colleagues at other school boards across Montreal have similar nutritional education programs and all follow government guidelines about what can be served in school cafeterias.
Apart from dispensing nutritional advice, school boards and community groups provide breakfast, snacks and subsidized lunch programs to many students in underprivileged areas. Students in all EMSB elementary schools receive milk four days a week.
When Beaudry began her career almost three decades ago, many students thumbed their noses at home-cooked meals and only wanted to eat hamburgers. Today, butter chicken, lasagna, and shepherd’s pie are popular items in high school cafeterias, she said.
Dietitian Giuliana Di Quinzio said many high school students want to eat healthily, but they aren’t always getting correct information about what is good for them. “Some follow different diets to lose weight but they are not based on facts,” she said.
Many high school students want to leave the school property during their lunch hour. So to discourage them from always eating at fast food restaurants, school cafeterias are selling grilled sandwiches, salads and pizza, items that can be easily wrapped so students can eat off campus.
During her eight years at the EMSB, dietitian Pamela Yiptong said she has seen many changes in what elementary students eat for lunch.
Cookies and snack bars still appear in lunch boxes, but there are far fewer bags of chips and chocolate bars, she said. Over the past five years, more children have been taking water to school instead of juice boxes.
“Kids are more aware of nutrition,” Yiptong said. “When I speak to them, it’s not first time they have heard about eating well. They hear it at home or at daycare. “
During her sessions with the board’s elementary students, children learn about ingredients and key words on juice boxes. As they get older, they discuss the sugar and fibre content of certain foods and learn the basics of the digestive system.
“We keep it simple by saying sugar tastes good but you don’t want too much of it, and that fibre is good for your digestive system,” she said.
“They are intrigued about what happens to the food. They want to know where does the food go. Sometimes they think it is a bit gross.”
For parents who struggle with lunches, Beaudry said leftovers are often a good choice, as well as grilled chicken or fish, pasta or soup in a Thermos. Fresh fruits and vegetables, along with lentils and yogurt, are also healthy choices.
Yiptong said children should be encouraged to help with food shopping and to participate in preparing lunches.
“Getting them involved with cooking, getting them to handle food and tasting new things so they explore and enjoy food is great,” she said. “Having them wash their fruit or put grapes in a container is a good start. Studies show that if we create (good eating) habits early on, they are harder to break.”
We want to convey the message that a healthy body will help them have a healthy brain and will help them learn.
Sylvie Beaudry, left, co-ordinator of Nutrition and Food Services at the English Montreal School Board, Giuliani Di Quinzio and Pamela Yiptong, also both dietitians at the school board, will be educating students of all ages about good eating habits.