When Katie Gleason requested broccoli for lunch, her mother had to steady herself. Until now, the fussy 8-year-old had shunned all things cruciferous.
A similar veggie tale was unfolding in a nearby neighborhood. Chloe Brickey decorated her plate with crimson berries and circular stacks of green cucumbers—a stark contrast to the nugget-brown shades of previous meals.
All over the small town of Mount Airy, elementary-schoolers—332 of them, to be exact—were munching fruits and vegetables as if Willy Wonka had grown them.
What made Mount Airy an unexpected mecca of healthy munching? “It’s Crunch Time!”—an eating program that engages children in their own nutrition and rewards their healthful food choices.
This unique program connects the home and school environments so that children receive synchronized (and thereby strengthened) nutrition messages. Funded by a grant from Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States, the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County developed It’s Crunch Time! to combat gloomy county nutrition data that showed fast food as a frequent dinner staple and fruits and vegetables as mealtime no-shows.
Administrators at Parr’s Ridge Elementary and Mount Airy Elementary welcomed It’s Crunch Time! as a way to augment their nutrition curriculum.
Kid participants in It’s Crunch Time! were asked to tweak their food habits and to track their servings of fruit, vegetables, junk/fast food, and sugary drinks for two months using calendars distributed via the classroom. Each week, surprise “Crunch Your Lunch” sticker sessions rewarded kids who were “caught” crunching fruits and vegetables.
In just a week, the crunch-factor of the cafeterias climbed noticeably.
Children eagerly noshed fruits and vegetables, swapped sugary drinks for water, and proudly displayed their growing sticker collections (many stored in lunchboxes). Even better, parents raved that their children were becoming more involved in grocery shopping, often reminding the adults to purchase healthy fare.
The program’s results (obtained through “before” and “after” nutrition surveys) showed that the majority of kids upped their daily intake of fruit and vegetables by at least one serving, and kids who used to indulge daily in sugary drinks and junk food bumped their unhealthy treats to only occasional indulgences…with no Veruca Salt-like tantrums.
For over 10 years, the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County has been dedicated to reducing childhood obesity. For more information on It’s Crunch Time! and the partnership’s other health programs, visit www.HealthyCarroll.org or call 410-871-7268.