Nicki Jimenez is a FoodCorps Service Member in Ronan.
Teachers have affected my life tremendously and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to influence young people in some way with my service this year. While I have always been grateful for my teachers, leading lessons in classrooms this year has made me appreciate what they do so much more, especially lesson-planning. I work with some incredibly committed teachers who prepare interesting lessons and schedule guest specialists to come in to their classrooms. Still, I have luxuries—freedom from a full-time class and a budget provided by a seed grant from the National Center for Appropriate Technology, FoodCorps Montana’s Host Site—that allow me to go wild with lesson planning.
At national FoodCorps training in August, we learned that FoodCorps doesn’t have a curriculum because a central value of FoodCorps service is that it is locally adapted. That’s why we’re placed with local organizations already doing farm to school in the community. And that’s why FoodCorps Service Members work with teachers to create lessons and curricula that meet the needs of their students and schools. This is especially important for food and nutrition education because what’s grown or raised in one region is different from another. There are plenty of food and nutrition curricula out there and lesson-planning as a FoodCorps Service member has involved drawing on those to piece together lessons that are appropriate for my students and for Western Montana.
One curriculum I’ve developed is an eight-week nutrition series for third graders at K. William Harvey Elementary School in Ronan. These students already knew some basics of nutrition: in the fall they experienced the SNAP-Edprogram out of the Flathead Reservation Extension Office. Our goal was to reaffirm and build off that knowledge while incorporating physical activity and healthy snacks. We started off with a couple introductory classes. In a lesson about energy balance I taught about how calories give your body energy and to stay healthy you should balance energy in from food and energy out from physical activity. We calculated how many calories were in a carrot and cucumber and then did as many jumping jacks as the energy from the snack provided! In the second lesson, we reviewed MyPlate by giving each kid a food group and having them make a MyPlate out of people from memory.
Then we moved into new material: Go Slow Whoa. Go Slow Whoa is a method developed by CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) to help kids learn how to make healthy decisions. I taught about how we should eat more Go (anytime) foods than Slow (sometimes) foods and more Slow foods than Whoa (seldom) foods. We played a “red light green light” game with different motions for Go, Slow, and Whoa foods to start getting the hang of it. Then we got down to business, learning about Go Slow Whoa for each food group. It’s fun to come up with creative ways to make each lesson engaging and fun with hands-on activities and snacks featuring local foods when possible.
In the dairy lesson, we identified and practiced activities that keep our bones healthy, then ate homemade ricotta cheese made with local Kalispell Kreamery milk. In the first fruit & veggie lesson, we did the Go Slow Whoa Fruit and Veggie Challenge where the students each received a food item and had to categorize it. In our second lesson, students worked in groups to brainstorm fruits and veggies for each color, then presented their ideas to the class as we talked about eating a rainbow! We made smoothies to go with each fruit and veggie lesson—Go Strananarrot (strawberry, banana, carrot) and Rainbow (with seven fruits & veggies including spinach). Next we’ll learn about grains and taste Montana-grown Kamut and finally we’ll learn about proteins and make a Montana lentil hummus.
I’ve seen some encouraging signs that these lessons are memorable for the kids in my class. I met a parent who said “oh so you’re the Miss Nicki my son’s been talking about.” One of my students volunteered to collect the recipe instructions during clean up just so she could write them all down for herself. She didn’t have to worry, though because at the end of the nutrition series, we’ll send the kids home with a recipe book. It’s my hope that by making food and nutrition fun—maybe even a highlight of their school day—these kids will begin to develop healthy habits to carry long into the future.