In Let it Grow by Leah Shafer with Harvard School of Education, Eva Ringstrom, Director of Impact at Foodcorps says, "While most children receive only 3.4 hours of nutrition education a year, maintaining a school garden necessitates that nutrition lessons become a consistent, built-in part of students’ educational experience. Research has shown that it takes between 35 and 50 hours of nutrition education a year to change kids’ preferences over the long term".
Miranda Beal's classroom is a garden. At San Gabriel Elementary in Atascadero, she is in her 2nd lesson of the afterschool program, Grow, Cook, Eat, where students are actively involved in growing fresh produce, then harvesting and preparing it in healthy recipes right in the school garden. During the lesson, students ask tough questions, like, "What healthier to eat: tomato or lettuce?"
As a Garden Educator Manager, Beal doesn't want to stand in front of the classroom and point at a government poster on the wall. Memorization is far less easy to digest than direct experiences of their own. She wants them to use their senses and think curiously.
But back to that difficult question. Beal thinks to herself, 'What if I say one is healthier, like lettuce? Would kids stop eating tomatoes because their educator said lettuce is better than tomatoes'? Instead, of answering, she turns the tables and asks her students, “What do you all think is healthier and why? Brainstorm and raise a quiet hand if you want to make a guess".
Hands reach up. She receives many answers:
"The lettuce because it’s green’.
"The lettuce because it’s salad".
Then, she asks, “Have you ever heard of Eat the Rainbow?”.
Some faces looked a little confused and then there are a few kids who burst with excitement. A couple of hands raise and a student declares, “Yes, we learned about that last year!”.
They remembered! Last year, Beal taught 3 classes a lesson call Eat a Rainbow and during that lesson, they drew over an outline of the human body, coloring areas that benefit from the nutritional value of fresh produce. It amazes Beal how kids make connections. She applauds her student on their comprehension.
Beal conveys that eating every color of fruits and vegetables helps our bodies in different ways. She has them think about red foods and their function. Red foods help our heart and help fight cancer. After discussing the red, someone puts their two hands on their head and says, “Green, I think green helps your brain.”
She says, "Green foods strengthen our memory as well as our teeth and bones. That’s why you always hear 'eat your greens'! But if you only eat your greens, you're missing out on certain nutrients that you can’t find in a green fruits and vegetables. Eating the five colors (red, orange/yellow, green, blue/purple, and white) is an easy way to make sure you are getting the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs for you to be at your best".
Beal continues to promote nutrition education as an educational experience such as Eat a Rainbow. She wants students to learn through experiences, and over time define what is nutritional and allow that to change kids' personal preferences.