Making sense of food

While some students poked the food, others in the first grade classes at Crownhill Elementary School ate the entire snack, an Asian-influenced slaw salad with tofu, bean sprouts and carrots.

"I love the tofu. It tastes like nothing," said Brianna Holloway, 7.

While Brianna said she has eaten tofu before, some of her peers were trying something new Tuesday.

The tofu taste testing was part of the Washington State University Kitsap County Extension Office's Food Sense Program, which is a nutrition class for preschool through fifth grade students.

The program has been working with the Bremerton School District since 1998 and brings in food and nutrition educators to teach students about healthy eating and habits.

The program also introduces students to new foods.

"You don't have to like everything we bring, but I want you to taste it," Celia Laliberte, a nutrition educator, said to Brianna's class.

Camden Robbins, program coordinator for the county's Food Sense program, said the program has been in Washington state since 1991 and is mainly to teach children about nutrition and health education. The program is at no cost to school districts — it operates on federal grants — and serves schools that have a student population of 50 percent or more on free or reduced lunch. The Bremerton School District has 60.9 percent of students on free or reduced lunch. Other schools Food Sense works with include those in Port Orchard, Port Angeles and Forks.

A nutrition educator with Food Sense goes to kindergarten classes once a week for a four-week session while other grades have a session of six weeks.

"It's a lot of fun, seeing the kids year after year get older," Robbins said.

The curriculum varies on the grade, said Robbins. First graders learn about the different food groups while in third and fourth grade, students focus on a "nutrition and me" course where one activity is placing hands under a black light to see germs that stick around when hands are not washed properly.

And not only does Food Sense come into the classrooms on a weekly basis, some things that are discussed by the nutrition educators are expanded to the schools' cafeterias, said Lisa Johnson, supervisor of child nutrition services for the school district.

"When they are in the classroom talking about it, they are more willing to try things in the cafeteria," Johnson said. She added that last year a spinach salad recipe was introduced to students through Food Sense and she later brought the salad to the cafeterias.

It's movement in the right direction to get children to eat healthy, compared to Congress recently saying that french fries and pizza are both considered vegetables.

"We do offer pizza but we don't count it as a vegetable," said Johnson.

Teachers also don't think pizza and fries should be considered as vegetables.

"That's a stretch," said Tina Bowers, Brianna's first grade teacher.

Bowers has extended what her students have learned through the Food Sense Program during her own class time as well. They took a vote on the foods they liked trying through Food Sense and indicated on a world map where the food originated from. Some examples include cilantro and mango.

In another first grade class next door to Bowers' class, students also learned about tofu being a protein and the food groups that make up the new USDA food plate from Laliberte.

Ryan Goodman, 6, took a bite of tofu from the salad.  "I like everything except the onions," he said.

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