Foods for thought

TRACY – Nearly 70 students had the opportunity to “Get in the Action” Friday at Tracy Area Elementary School, where educators collaborated to promote good nutrition and wellness in hopes of developing healthier schools and kids.

“This event is being held to help promote and reinforce healthy eating, physical activity, nutritional education and physical education in order to increase student achievement,” TAES Principal Tracey Olson said. “It is made possible through a grant from Action for Healthy Kids.”

Action for Healthy Kids is a non-profit organization geared toward combating childhood obesity, said Ann Kisch, Minnesota state coordinator for the program. Current statistics reveal that one out of three children are overweight or obese. That percentage did not sit well with Laurie Maeyaert, Tracy Area Public School food service director.

“Throughout the state this last school year, we had 21 schools who received grant funds to do things to make substantial changes in their school to promote wellness,” Kisch said. “Tracy was the top school because of all the efforts that Laurie has done in the school and changes that the school has made for improving wellness for its students. So they got extra funding to put on (Friday’s) event and do some other good things for the school.”

The fun-filled and educational experience began immediately after school Friday as participating students in grades 3-6 enjoyed fruit kabobs, prepared by sixth-graders and high school students in a food class.

“They’re good,” sixth-grader Hayden Landuyt said.

While the younger students went outside to play, 16 sixth-grade students assisted kitchen staff with a pumpkin parfait recipe. Using pumpkins from a first-year school garden, the students got busy adding milk, Cool Whip and other ingredients for the dessert.

“It’s messy,” sixth-grader Azalea Macho said.

As Macho, her classmate Maddie Deslauriers and high school helpers Galiya Bitton and Morgan Anderson prepared one batch of the dessert, sixth-graders Caden Buysse, Griffin Radke, Michael Munson, Michael Moua, Sheila Vang and Selena Vue, along with Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) members Zoua Pa Vue and Sandra Thao, stirred up the second one.

“It was overflowing,” Deslauriers said. “It felt weird. But it was fun.”

While their classmates prepared the filling, Rachel Van Meveren, Jada Turner, Adrianna Medina and Tucker Elsen, along with FCCLA member Sam Westberg, began layering the dessert into individual dishes.

Afterward, all of the students split up into three groups, then rotated to three different sessions. In the gym, students experimented with a follow-the-leader type exercise video.

“That was fun,” Gabe Struchen said. “I liked that it actually worked.”

Struchen said he thought it was somewhat difficult, especially when he had to keep jumping. Caleb Illg agreed.

“The hardest part was that you needed to jump a million times,” Illg said.

The last duo to try the new interactive activity included Nathan Fultz and Touger Vang, who battled tidal waves on a tube together.

Assisted by dance line members in the music room, students took turns moving to “Just Dance” videos, including “Squirrels in My Pants,” “Shake it Up” and Hannah Montana’s “Hoedown Throwdown.”

“It was weird,” Amy Vang said. “I was squashed. But the best part is that I got to dance with my friends.”

Four by four, students lined up and followed the dancers’ actions on the screen.

“It was fun,” said Ali Ros, who won her round of interactive dancing.

In the third session, Devin Diedrich, a health and physical education major at Southwest Minnesota State University, explained the importance of eating healthy and staying active and then handed out copies of applications students could access to play and learn.

“The top section includes websites you can go to and learn about healthy lifestyles,” Diedrich said. “When I say healthy lifestyle, it’s games that are going to teach you about different kinds of food and different kinds of exercises you can do to burn those calories off, for the stuff you’re eating.”

The applications included Trainer, Food Hero, Food Find and Work it off!

“Trainer is a lot like Pokemon,” Diedrich said. “You get a little character and you’re in charge of taking care of it. If you don’t take care of it, feed it the right food and give it the right exercise, it’s going to die.”

The neatest part about Trainer, Diedrich said, is that kids actually have to do some of the exercises with their character.

The handout also listed different games students could upload onto their iPods or iPhones, including Awesome Eats, Smash Your food, Food Flight and Fat Jump.

“I like this one,” Morgan DeGroat said as she played Fat Jump on one of the school iPads.

Diedrich said she also enjoyed the coin-collecting, greasy obstacle-dodging game.

“It’s like Mario,” Diedrich said. “But every time you eat cookies, your health score goes down. It’s kind of fun.”

Food Hero tells its players how good certain foods are for you and how many calories are involved.

“It’s really important for you guys to know that kind of stuff,” Diedrich said. “You should know what you’re putting in your bodies.”

While playing the game, Olivia Peterson wanted to know whether waffles and mushrooms were good for you. Alexis Buccholz questioned whether or not fish was good for a person.

“The reason I did this wasn’t to promote video games but to show you there are positive things to do on your electronic devices,” Diedrich said.

After the sessions were completed, a number of others also spoke to the students, who had been joined by their families in the TAES media center. Along with Maeyaert, two FFA representatives asked those in attendance to consider helping with the new school garden this summer.

“It would be so fun if we could get the community involved,” Maeyaert said. “It’s a good family thing to do, and the kids get to see (garden produce) in their lunch. It’s great.”

Dietitians Lindsay Ourada and Katie Wilhelmi also presented.

“We work in multiple settings, with schools being one of them,” Ourada said. “We work to increase healthy actions, with the goal of decreasing childhood obesity. Tracy has been great to work with. They’ve done a lot of great things to get kids more active and get healthier.”

Wilhelmi pointed out that dietitians work with people and with food.

“We help people find out what foods help make them healthy and keep them healthy,” she said.

When asked what foods they thought were healthy, students blurted out: “corn, apples, broccoli, low-fat chocolate and meat.”

Wilhelmi also introduced a new nutrition program called NuVal, which scores food from 1-100.

“The higher the number, the healthier the food is for you,” Wilhelmi said. “NuVal is in a lot of Hy-Vee grocery stores, but a group of doctors are the ones who came up with this program.”

The program looks at all the good things that are in a product, including vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and whole grain, along with how much sugar, salt and fat is present.