Students Learn How to Pick a Better Snack

May 2011

As a first grade teacher, one of Sonja Scott’s favorite things about the Pick a Better Snack and ACT™Pick a Better Snack participant program is that her students are encouraged to be brave. And brave they are – trying fresh spinach, avocado and even jicama without thinking twice! She and other teachers have found that being open-minded and willing to try new healthy foods has become the “cool” thing to do, thanks to the encouragement and weekly visit from Iowa State University Extension nutrition educators leading the program.

Pick a Better Snack and ACT is a nine-week program that brings nutrition educators into kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms. They share a nutrition and health lesson, lead a literacy activity, introduce one new fruit or vegetable each week, and allow students to try it.

In 2010 more than 4,083 youth in 177 classrooms and 24 schools benefited from this educational outreach in Johnson, Keokuk and Iowa counties, supported by both county and BASICS funding streams. BASICS stands for Building And Strengthening Iowa Community Support for nutrition and physical activity; it is funded by the Iowa Department of Public Health. One requirement is to reach schools that have more than 50 percent of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch.

My daughter is in second grade and is participating in this program right now. She loves it! She comes home and reports back to us about the new foods she’s tried at school … and how she wants to start eating these foods at home. I’ve always had difficulty getting her to try new vegetables … and now she’s eating raw broccoli! All because of this program! I wanted to convey my sincere thanks for the wonderful influence they've had on my daughter.

- Erin McDonald, Iowa City Community School District parent and teacher

The messages taught are centered on the food pyramid, understanding the importance of each of the food groups, recognizing the value of daily exercise, and deciphering between "all-the-time" foods and "sometimes" foods. ISU Extension then provides classroom teachers with various activities and ideas to reinforce the lesson into other parts of the school day.

Students and teachers alike are making the connection. Teachers and principals recognize students being more open-minded in the lunch room, taking advantage of fresh produce when it is available. They’ve also noticed a difference in the choices being made during classroom celebrations. According to nutrition educator, Melissa Stahl, students in the Iowa City Community School District were excited to talk about the healthy things they were able to do to celebrate Halloween.

“When we met the week before, we brainstormed ways to make the day fun and healthy. And the news from the classroom parties was very encouraging. A dad of a first grader at Roosevelt brought in a huge fruit tray with a large variety and every child enjoyed the fruit.

“Another teacher at Kirkwood requested the parents donate yogurt, frozen fruit and granola and the class made parfaits instead of the ice cream sundaes they did last year! Her kids told me it was the best party they have had!”

When it all comes down to it, this program helps students understand the importance of healthy choices. A third grader currently enrolled in Pick A Better Snack said it best, “We’re learning how to make a difference in our life before it’s too late.”

For more information about Pick a Better Snack and ACT™ in Region 15 contact:
Jan Temple, Nutrition & Food Safety Regional Program Director, 319-337-2145,
Gene Mohling, Regional Extension Education Director, 319-337-2145,