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Snack to school

June 10, 2015

Carrie McKenzie (third from right) and volunteers from MSU Denver’s Department of Nutrition brought nutrition education to more than 200 elementary school children this spring. PHOTO: Courtesy of The Wide Eyed World Photography
Carrie McKenzie (third from right) and volunteers from MSU Denver’s Department of Nutrition brought nutrition education to more than 200 elementary school children this spring. PHOTO: Courtesy of The Wide Eyed World Photography

It was Carrie McKenzie’s week to bring the snacks for her daughter’s kindergarten class. But McKenzie, then a student in MSU Denver’s Department of Nutrition, just couldn’t justify providing quick pre-packaged food. So, she asked the teacher if she could use snack week as an opportunity to teach basic nutrition. Without hesitation, the teacher agreed.

“The kids loved the lessons,” McKenzie recalled. “Each day they were excited to see me and curious about what they were going to eat. Their enthusiasm inspired me to think about how I could do the same thing with students in other grades.”

McKenzie spoke to the school principal, who put her in touch with a first-grade teacher. That teacher had been trying to incorporate nutrition education into the classroom and was excited to have some support. McKenzie began to draw up lesson plans designed to help students get more exposure to fruits and vegetables. Evidence-based research suggests that repeat exposure, as well as the ability to identify various produce, increases the likelihood of kids voluntarily consuming fruits and vegetables, habits they take into their adult years and that decrease their risk of becoming overweight or obese later in life.

At the center of those lessons was the idea of bringing a variety of food samples into the classroom for children to touch, smell and taste. Samples would be carefully selected to represent healthy choices in the five basic food groups as identified by the USDA's MyPlate guidelines. The experience would be paired with nutrition education that fulfilled the standards set by the Colorado Department of Education.

McKenzie called her plan the Hands On Nutrition Education for Youth (H.O.N.E.Y) Project and recruited some of her fellow nutrition students to teach the lessons. The inaugural program ran April 1-13 and could only be described as a success.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from kids and parents,” McKenzie said. “The kids love the hands-on experience and then they go home and teach their parents. It’s a creative way of exposing whole families to healthy lifestyle choices and nutrition education.”

The seven volunteer teachers from MSU Denver were also moved by the experience, according to McKenzie. “We came to empower children to eat better and their excitement and openness inspired us to reach out to more kids,” she said.

By May the team was able to bring nutrition education to more than 200 elementary school children. And it looks like they will have an opportunity to do even more.

The project was so well-received that Jefferson County Public Schools, the largest and most diverse school district in the state, has asked that the program be brought into as many classrooms as possible during the upcoming year. McKenzie, who graduated this May, is busy trying to make that happen. She is working with district leadership to map out the logistics, a plan that will almost certainly include more collaboration with MSU Denver nutrition students and faculty.

“In three months this has grown more than I ever expected,” she said.

Not bad for someone who just wanted to bring a little more nutrition to snack week.

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