Kin­der­gart­ners get jump on nu­tri­tion ed­u­ca­tion

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - KATHER­INE WILTON

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.

DAVE SID­AWAY

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.

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