Harvest is a perfect time to teach students benefits of healthy living

Salem Statesman Journal
Robin Bender
September 22, 2017

Fall is one of my favorite seasons of the year—the leaves turn color, and children are eager to romp through the pumpkin patch. With fall comes a new school year for students, and families are adjusting their daily routines from the flexibility of summer to the more structured school schedule. As part of this transition, students also need to move towards a healthier diet.

Along with the weather, researchers have found that seasonal changes influence our nutritional habits. We tend to eat fall foods like breads, vegetable soups, and apples, which are packed with beneficial nutrients but may lead to weight gain. Studies show children with healthy diets are more likely to succeed academically.  

October is National Farm to School month and Oregon has several successful food programs (oregonfarmtoschool.org), including 670 school gardens and 90% of school meals use local vegetables, fruits, grains, meats or dairy products. Oregon’s fall harvest season is loaded with healthy crops including broccoli, squash, cranberries and pears that can be incorporated into school time meals.

Farm to school activities encourage healthy eating behaviors. In fact, during National School Lunch Week October 9-13, the Oregon School Nutrition Association will be promoting the nutritionally balanced cafeteria meals provided to students, often with fresh farm ingredients.

This fall, families can try a DIY experience to bring nature’s bounty straight from the farm to their forks. They can visit a farmer’s market in their region (oregonfarmersmarkets.org), several of which also offer kid’s clubs that empower children to make their own healthy food choices.

The Oregon Farm Bureau’s website (oregonfb.org/oregonsbounty) helps families planning a trip to a U-pick farm or fruit stand, offering students a hands-on experience to harvest their own produce. Planting a garden at home is another approach, even if it’s a small one with herbs. Teaching children where food comes from and how it ends up on their plates nurtures a lifelong love of healthy eating.

One of the healthiest things parents can do for their children is enjoy meals together as a family. October has even been designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “Eat Better, Eat Together Month” to remind families of the benefits of sharing mealtimes such as enhanced social skills and improved communication.

Research indicates children who share family meals three or more times a week, whether at home or at a restaurant, are more likely to have healthier dietary patterns than those who don’t. Getting the family to eat nutritious meals might be challenging, but a few simple steps can make it easier. 

Ask children to help with meal preparation including picking out new fruits and vegetables at the grocery store they wish to try. If students feel more invested in the process they are more likely to eat healthy foods. Plus preparing meals involves all sorts of learning including math, science, and reading.

Kids love snacks, so stock the fridge and cupboards with nutritious choices like carrot and celery sticks, raisins, and whole grain crackers. Look for brain foods in season to benefit cognitive and academic abilities, such as hazelnuts or even popcorn. 

Finally, parents are important role models when it comes to the culinary choices students make. If children see mom and dad eating fruits and vegetables, their tastes in food are more likely to follow those of their parents.

If you’re trying to make healthy eating become the new norm for your family, give it time and plenty of repetition. The benefits outweigh the occasional turned up noses.

Robin Bender of Pleasant Hill is a high school PE and health teacher with Oregon Connections Academy. She can be reached through the school at  www.OregonConnectionsAcademy.com or by calling (800) 382-6010.