Five-a-day. Three-a-day. Got Milk?  Put a Rainbow on Your Plate. The World is Full of Dips. These are just a few of the catch phrases the Vinalhaven School Nutrition Committee has been using to get their message out to students and staff since their debut at the school a year ago.

One of the goals of the Nutrition Committee is to incorporate nutrition education into an already full curriculum while reaching all students in grades K-12. Their philosophy has been to “piggyback onto existing programs without complicating already hectic schedules,” according to parent volunteer Jessica Farrell. That’s why the Committee’s first event at Vinalhaven School was the March 2005 Jump Rope for Heart fundraising event for the American Heart Association, which is organized and run annually by fifth grade teacher Gloria Smith for elementary students. 

“We taped heart facts to the floor for the kids to read while they jumped and set up a station outside the gym for kids not jumping,” said Farrelly. “Our theme was `Put a Rainbow on Your Plate.'” Activities included gluing fruits and vegetables onto a rainbow wall poster and filling out 5-a-day activity sheet. The Committee also provided healthy snacks for the jumpers while they took breaks.

The Nutrition Committee plans to attend this year’s Jump Rope for Heart as well, and has even added a Hoops for Heart component for middle school students.

Since March 2005 the Nutrition Committee has been very busy.  They have participated in many other school events, including Dental Care Day, Field Day, Teacher Appreciation Week and Christmas Around the World. They have also created several of their own events, often sneaking into lunch periods so as not to ask teachers for precious classroom time. Last September, 5-a-Day Month featured fresh produce from the student garden on the cafeteria lunch menu, display of giant vegetable balloons during lunchtime and “tasters,” which have become popular among students. During the 5-a-Day taster all students were offered tastes of fresh garden pizza made with vegetables from the student garden, homemade pesto pizza, spinach pizza and three bean salad. 

Second grade teacher Samantha Carter said her students enjoyed the tasting event. “They liked having something different and learning to try different things,” she explained. “The committee cut the pizza up into little bites to entice the kids to try it. Some kids put up a mental block: if it’s green they don’t like it.  But the kids who did try it were finding they liked it, and more kids liked it than not.”

Often, the cafeteria staff teams up with the Nutrition Committee to bring healthier options to students. Monday Muffins in March is a joint promotion that was given a trial run last month.  Students had the option to buy a muffin and milk at snack time, rather than the cookies, candy bars and soda that many students eat at the mid-morning break. Muffins were made with healthy ingredients such as pumpkin, apples and oatmeal, and cooking oil was replaced with applesauce for a lower-fat muffin.

The Nutrition Committee also provided healthy snacks for Read Across America Day. This event is celebrated in schools across the country each year on March 2nd, Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Farrelly researched snacks that would fit in with a Dr. Seuss theme and came up with Pink Ink smoothies. “They were very popular,” she said. “We had been talking about doing smoothies all year, and this seemed like a good time to do them.” The smoothies were served at lunchtime in the cafeteria to any student who wished to try one.

The Nutrition Committee formed during the 2004-05 school year. Vinalhaven School had just finished its first year with a school lunch program, and there had been questions and ideas from parents about school nutrition. Superintendent George Joseph held a meeting for open dialogue about school nutrition and to outline the relevant requirements of the Maine State Learning Results.

Heather Reidy is the Chairman of the SAD 8 Board of Education and a member of the Nutrition Committee. “We were interested in making nutritional food more accessible to kids, whether or not they make it a permanent habit,” she said. “We wanted to help the cafeteria and set better examples.”

Also, according to Farrelly, schools participating in the National lunch program are required to write a wellness policy and have it in place by the 2006-07 school year. There are three elements to the policy: provide nutrition education to equip students with the necessary tools to make healthy choices; provide healthy food choices in the cafeteria and encourage students, parents and staff to choose healthy snacks at school events; and to provide ample time for all students to participate in physical activity, both organized, such as PE, and unorganized, such as recess. “By next year we will have a policy in place,” said Farrelly, “as well as something written in the student handbook.”

Vinalhaven School appears to be on the progressive side of school nutrition in the state of Maine, as Linda LaPointe, Kitchen Team Leader, found out this winter. “I was attending a Maine Food Service Conference in Portland,” she said, with other food service employees from schools all over the state. “We were talking about having support, and I mentioned our Nutrition Committee. People were very impressed; they thought it was a wonderful idea. Many were thinking of starting nutrition committees at their own schools.”  LaPointe will attend another such conference in August, at which time she will be able to follow up and find out if others followed through.

While the Nutrition Committee has been as active as any group can be with very little funding, “we know how much more there is to do,” said Farrelly.  But “we are finding that teachers are starting to get into it.  That’s been really exciting for me,” she said.  And “when a parent asked my advice in the grocery store, that day I knew we were getting the word out.”

1 small container vanilla yogurt (preferably low sugar)
1/2 banana
5-6 strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 Cup red fruit juice
(such as Juicy Juice punch)

Blend all ingredients until smooth.