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Brown Bag Science
A friend and I have been working on ways to help kids to adopt healthier eating habits. Short of following them around or inserting a nutrition unit into an already crowded curriculum what should we do? Well, we decided on twice a month brown bag lunches with a local dietitian.
The idea is brilliantly simple. We contact the local food store and hospital and find a willing dietitian who would come twice a month to our classroom over the student lunch period (usually a brief 30-35 minutes. They would give the students science information about nutrition. The student’s can bring a bag lunch or pick one up in the cafeteria (or we can have a certain number brought up on that day). Often if the dietitian is from a local grocery store they will bring some good food snacks for the kids as well.
So, We decided that I can come in and teach these willing upper elementary kids about calories and some of the science of measuring energy in their foods. There are several safe experiments we can do while the students eat. This same lesson could be repeated with more than one group as we want to break the class into three groups so the lunches and lessons are a lot more personal. I think that keeping the groups under 10 is ideal. The kids would be assigned to participate in at least one lunch per month and we would make sure they get great certificates at the end of their participation.
I know you are probably thinking that kids will not willingly give up a lunch period with friends and the chance to dine in the relaxing ambiance of the school cafeteria. We will count on the fact that kids will often try something different and will do almost anything for a certificate of some sort. The first group should be some of your strongest trend setters and leaders. The rest will generally follow.
What we should cover is a tougher question. I think that some basic physical science is in order. Certainly calories and how our digestive system works would be important knowledge. Most dietitians will cover food groups and some basics about what foods are carbohydrates and which are proteins. It is easy to help kids understand prior to the dietitian lessons what the differences between these two groups are chemically. This does not have to be boring. There is an amazing NPR article about a teacher who dies this with his kids and the labs are very cool.
Indiana has a whole set of lessons on nutrition at their web site.
To have some fun when the dietitian arrives of after he/she leaves there are some interesting brown bag games that make putting this new knowledge to work fun.
So, the plan is simple. MY friend and I lose a few lunch times a month and gain a whole new window of teachable time with her students. We make a community connection with someone who can not only deliver sound science applications but also career information. I know the kids will benefit from the new knowledge but I know my lunches could use a nutrition makeover as well.