The fourth-grade students having a conversation in Amanda Simon’s class boast a vocabulary well beyond their years: trans fats, lycopene, lutein, micronutrients — hardly typical grade-school fodder. But, these students sound right at home as they carefully analyze food labels to compare caloric and fat content and nutritional value as “nutrition detectives” in Simon’s wellness class.
“Basically, I talk to kids and teach them how to be savvy consumers, know what’s in their food and read labels to determine the ingredients,” she says. “We go through a lot of hands-on investigations, looking at labels and learning the difference between a good, nutritious choice and one without the nutrients they need.”
Simon piloted the program last year as a way to teach her students the importance of understanding nutrition at a young age. She says the idea stems from personal experience: Diabetes, heart disease and other health issues run in her family, and she was determined to make a change.
“Three years ago, I changed my life and the way we eat as a family,” she says. “I thought I ate well, and I thought I understood nutrition, but I didn’t understand the science of it. I had to look so hard to find that, and I thought, ‘Why is that, and how can I get that information to kids in a way they can understand?’”
This year, she earned a $500 grant through Gulf Coast Gives to buy food and ingredients to use in lessons throughout the year. Students compare food labels and learn to make healthy snacks and meals. Simon says her goal is not to dictate what they eat, but to give them the skills to make their own informed decisions.
“It’s fantastic to teach the kids,” she says. “I like listening to them talk when they don’t know I’m listening. I can hear them at snack time comparing each other’s food labels, and I probably get two to three emails every week from parents thanking me. A lot of them say their child is actually teaching them.”
Simon says she’s constantly encouraged by her students’ enthusiasm, and she hopes they’ll use the lessons they learn for years to come.
“I think it’s probably one of most important things kids can learn,” she says. “I’ve seen it change my life, and it’s changing the lives of my fourth-graders.”
BY THE NUMBERS
2 — Number of years the program has been running
$500 — Cost of the program
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