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One Week, 500 Healthy Choices


Students at two elementary schools in upstate New York are running on full — with healthy habits. Leader Wendy Cooper shared that students from two schools in her Healthy Highway program accumulated 500 nutritious food choices in one week. They tracked their healthy eating habits with specially constructed “fuel gauge” that moved closer to a full tank with each healthy choice, and the kids earned kudos once they reached 500.

“Every day they kept seeing that little fuel gauge go up and up, higher and higher,” Cooper says. “It raises the awareness of the choices that are being made, and it celebrates those choices.”

The Healthy Highway program uses traffic metaphors to teach children healthy habits. Students learn that they need to put “good fuels in their engines” and “go for healthy choices.” Most of the program is curriculum-based, showing students how to do things such as eat nutritious foods and make physical activity a priority.

But the 500 healthy habits goal is a simple idea that any school can douse to help kids learn to make healthy choices, Cooper says. Cafeteria employees, teachers, parents and other school staff guide students to pick healthy foods, and students feel a sense of accomplishment when they do.

It also encourages students to talk about eating right, and teachers like it because it doesn’t cut into the already jam-packed school day.

“It’s raising the awareness,” Cooper says of the 500 goal. “This was a very simple way to do that, and yet a very powerful way as well.”

At English Village Elementary School in Rochester, students received a colored ball when they ate a healthy option at lunchtime and put into a “fuel tank” basket. During the week, students consumed double the usual amount of pears, pineapple, peaches, apple sauce and sugar snap peas. In one day, 7 1/2 pounds of broccoli was consumed; the next day, students ate 7 1/2 pounds of cauliflower.

Second-graders made a celebratory snack of peppers, cucumbers, grapes, carrots and celery dipped in ranch or honey mustard dressing to serve the entire school.

Meanwhile, kids at nearby Northstar Christian Academy kept track of their healthy choices on a large banner in the school cafeteria. Students who ate a healthy option were given a sticker, and the fuel gauge on the wall moved from empty to full as more stickers were posted to the banner.

When the kids hit the 500 mark, the school held a celebratory assembly that included a visit from a local chef, who shared why it’s important to eat healthy. “The kids were all excited and proud of their choices,” Cooper says.

Although students have hit their goal, Cooper notes that both schools have seen students continue to make healthy choices.

Click here to connect with Wendy Cooper.