Head: Ask the Dietitian…About Their Most Creative Nutrition Lesson!

Spreading the word about good nutrition and quality food is the heart of the dietetics profession. Through one-on-one sessions, education initiatives, classes, lessons, webinars and more, dietitians aim to end misinformation and empower others. In School Nutrition’s Ask the Dietitian” feature in the March 2019 issue, the highlighted dietitians were asked what nutrition education lesson that they’ve taught was their favorite/most creative.

Here, they spill the beans on colorful fruits and vegetables, food tasting experiments, lessons in sugar and so much more.

Through USDA’s Produce University, Ashley Harris, MS, RD, SNS, and director of child nutrition at Jackson County (Miss.) School District, became inspired. “The Train the Trainer Program was an amazing opportunity for me to bring back to my state. I have used the resources provided in this training at both local and state conferences.

Although her current role as Director of Food and Nutrition at Franklin Township (N.J.) School District doesn’t allow for much nutrition education, Margaret DeBlasi, RD, SNS, loves doing food demonstrations and teaching new recipes to her staff. “I recently taught staff how to make an appealing quinoa salad with fresh tomatoes and peppers, and an arugula salad with roasted red peppers, chickpeas and olives. I like introducing new foods to the students (and staff). We don’t know if it will be accepted, but we do expose them to it and it may become a healthy part of their diet for the rest of their lives!”

“My favorite lesson is teaching the various colors of fruits and vegetables and why each of the colors are needed for our bodies,” says Laura Duba, RD, LN, and director of Child Nutrition at Brookings (S.D.) School District. It sounds simple, but there is great importance to share with people of all ages regarding the why behind a nutritious and colorful diet. Connecting this to the National School Lunch Program makes it easy to explain why there are various colors seen each week in the kitchens throughout the schools in our nation.” And, she jokes that M&Ms are not part of a colorful diet!

“Taste balance” is a concept that Garrett Berdan, RDN, enjoys teaching. The Nutrition Services Supervisor at Spokane (Wash.)Public Schools learned a very cool tasting exercise from a chef instructor. “We taste a bitter vegetable and then we proceed with making the bitterness palatable by balancing bitter with other tastes—sweet, sour and salty. By the end of the lesson we have made bitter radicchio taste pretty good by adding just the right amount of lime juice, sugar and salt.” Of course, he adds, someone always makes a “Where’s the tequila?” comment every time.

Don’t make Joe Dibble, RD, choose between his favorite lessons. He actually has two. The most well-received, he says, is a Jeopardy-style game on food trivia. Playing with children, Dibble, school nutrition supervisor at Nevada Department of Agriculture, customizes the questions to school-aged children and when the game is over, it always ends with a fruit and vegetable sampling.

His second-favorite lesson, he says, is geared toward university students. “I emphasize the importance of their classroom work, gaining relevant nutrition-related and volunteer experiences, making positive impressions with professors and professionals in the field and setting their sights to become a registered dietitian as a goal,” Dibble notes.

It is no secret that many popular food items among children—pizza, chicken nuggets, ice cream, burritos, etc.—can be full of a lot of excess sugars and fat. For Laura Marlow, MS, RD, she uses a visual of sugars and fats to show high school students just how much can be lurking in their favorite foods. “We all know there is a lot of sugar in soda and fat in fries, but actually seeing how much helps to spur on behavioral changes,” explains Marlow, supervisor of nutrition, commodities and summer program at Cincinnati (Ohio)Public Schools. “This visual gets them interested in learning to read labels to find out what is in their food, instead of assuming something may be healthy due to false advertising in some cases.”

The favorite nutrition education moment for Karen Olsen, RDN, LD, SNS, involves a cloth replica of the intestine. The dietitian at Harford County (Md.) Public Schools loves teaching about human digestion. The replica intestine “grabs the attention of kids and adults alike as it is stretched to its full length,” explains Olsen.

Robyn Douglas, MPP, RDN, tries to inject nutrition education into the classrooms. By working with elementary school teachers, she strives to create fellow warriors in wellness. “I really enjoyed working with our elementary teachers on how to instruct a nutrition class,” says Douglas, nutrition coordinator at Alexandria City (Va.) Public Schools. “Teachers were separated by groups according to grade level and given time to review the sample lesson plan,” Douglas explains. “The group needed to come up with a positive comment, a negative comment and a neutral comment about the material and its effects on the students. It was an important exercise to work through in helping our teachers understand the benefits of the lessons while being cautious not to sort foods or behaviors into good or bad categories.” All foods, she adds, can fit in a nutritious lifestyle.

Imagine yourself running a marathon. (Stay with us.) You are surrounded by 50,000 other runners and the temperature is cold to start. As you’re running, you begin to get hot and start taking off some layers of clothing. As you throw the clothes into the street, says Shannon Gleave, RDN, SNS, director of food and nutrition at Glendale (Ariz.) Elementary School District, it is like LDL cholesterol levels. “It litters the street and after time could make the street not passable,” instructs Gleave. She loves this lesson on good and bad cholesterol with her students. “HDL cholesterol is like the volunteers that come after the runners and pick up the discarded sweatshirts, long sleeve shirts, water cups etc. They are clearing the street up so traffic can keep flowing.”

Fruits and vegetables have been inspiring Toni Bowman, MBA, RDN for a long time. As registered dietitian at Pomptonian Food Service based in Edison, N.J., she recently instituted a locally based fruit and vegetable program. “We made a commitment to feature one local fruit and vegetable each month in over 400 schools! This has supported our farmers and encouraged fruit and vegetable consumption with our students,” Bowman explains. “It is most rewarding to see students try a new fruit or vegetable for the first time, but most importantly, seeing how much they enjoy them.”

While some may find it frustrating and confusing, Karen Hallford, MS, RD, LD, loves teaching about the regulation meal patterns to her district’s food assistants. “Talking to them about regulations, customer expectations and our program goals is eye opening for them,” Hallford, the school nutrition program director at Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools, explains. “The idea is for them to understand the complexities that go into menu planning for K-12 and the importance of following the menus once in place.” Once the lesson is taught the students are then instructed to create a week’s worth of meals and put their newly learned knowledge to the test.

Dietitians bring a wealth of knowledge to school nutrition programs. In addition to sharing their favorite nutrition education lesson, the above dietitians spilled the beans on their favorite nutrients . Every profession has humble beginnings and dietitians are no exception. School nutrition directors talk about the benefits of hosting interns at their programs. And, did you know that dietitians have their own membership organization? We’ve put together a brief history of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and included other helpful resources to get you acquainted with the Academy’s programs and services.

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