Bear Canyon Elementary School third graders chant for their individuals teams, fists pumping, faces lit with excitement, voices so loud they drown out all other conversation. They’re cheering not for a sports team, a classmate or favorite teacher. They’re cheering for vegetables.
The school participated May 4 in a new program designed to get them excited about eating well. Judging by the joyful chaos in the lunchroom, it worked.
Nutrislice uses technology to engage children in their nutrition, turning the sometimes ho-hum process of eating high-quality food into interactive, educational games. Friday’s large-group program was set up like a sporting event, with red and blue teams competing to see who could eat the most vegetables and fruits.
Nutrislice co-founder Mike Craig uses the same techniques advertisers do to draw kids to processed foods, but for a better purpose.
“Childhood obesity is a huge epidemic,” Craig said. “Our company wants to use social technologies to get kids to eat healthier and increase their nutritional IQ.”
Bear Canyon’s third graders weren’t conscious of the lesson woven into their lunch period. Their focus was on winning.
“It was really fun, but I was kind of nervous,” Audrey Irvin said. “We were under a lot of pressure.”
Irvin rose to the occasion, finishing four containers of carrots and kiwi, and liking it.
“I did have kiwi before, but they weren’t nearly as sweet as today,” she said.
Those are sweet words to Douglas County Schools’ executive chef Jason Morse and the district’s nutrition services director Brent Craig.
The district’s Craig and Morse have been working hard to change the district’s lunch menus and kids’ palates.
No more canned peaches and ready-made macaroni and cheese here. Ninety-five percent of the fruits and vegetables are fresh, much of it locally grown. Many of the other menu items are made from scratch.
All the dietary upgrades made district officials feel good, but not the children, who threw most of it into the trash. Nutrislice bridges that gap.
“All the inhibitions kids have about eating fruits and vegetables just goes away,” Craig said. “The ultimate is broccoli. I was so surprised to see kids eating broccoli.”
The district has its own ways of spicing up lunchtime. Students help choose menu items with taste tests and by casting electronic votes. Whenever possible, Morse turns healthy food into an event. He plans to introduce made-from-scratch tuna sandwiches with a launch party, complete with disc jockey. Most importantly, the nutrition services staff doesn’t give up.
“It takes us 21 exposures to get them comfortable with something,” Morse said.
Macaroni and cheese made with whole-grain pasta and low-fat, low-sodium mozzarella and cheddar didn’t initially get rave reviews from students.
“Over the last five months, we’ve seen our numbers start to skyrocket again,” Morse said.
Changing the way kids eat is a mission for the district’s Morse and Craig. But Craig knows the window of opportunity is small.
“I want to see these kids in high school making good choices,” he said. “They’re independent thinkers then. I want to see them choosing fruits and vegetables because that was the culture we instilled in them.”
For more information on Nutrislice, visit www.nutrislice.com.