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Stanislaus State nursing students spark healthy eating habits in Turlock fifth-graders
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Fifth-graders at Brown Elementary School learned about healthier snack choices such as bread and olive oil from Marcelle Winkler and four other Stanislaus State nursing students Wednesday.

The initial hesitation felt by Brown Elementary School fifth-graders as they dipped chunks of homemade whole wheat bread into garlic, lime or basil olive oil turned into delight as they discovered yet another healthy food choice along with the help of Stanislaus State nursing students, who visited the campus Wednesday to teach them about the importance of nutrition.


“We learned a lot about nutrition and the good and bad types of food,” said fifth-grader Savannah Beattie at the end of Wednesday’s lesson. “We learned about carbohydrates, fats and proteins and learned about what is bad about the stuff we usually eat likes fries and fried chicken.


“Now I’m going to start eating healthier,” added Beattie.


Over the course of five weeks, Stanislaus State nursing students assessed the nutritional knowledge and patterns of the elementary students and reviewed food carbohydrates, fat and protein. They also focused on added sugar by telling students that the recommended daily added sugar intake for children is less than six teaspoons a day, and then compared that to a 12 ounce Coca Cola, which has 10 teaspoons sugar and an eight ounce Gatorade, which has three teaspoons. Students got to taste water infused with either cranberry or lime, orange and lemon or cucumber and mint as a healthier alternative.


“I don’t think the elementary students are aware of the delicious and nutritious snacks that are inexpensive — less than a bag of Hot Cheetos — and easy to prepare,” said Turlock Unified School District Health and Fitness Instructional Coach Robin Swartz. “I am hoping that they will make better snack choices in the future.”


Nursing students also went over the differences between whole foods and processed foods, as well as how to tell the difference between the two by reading food labels and the advantages of eating whole foods. To enforce the lesson’s goal of increasing whole food consumption, students sampled roasted sweet potatoes with salt, pepper and garlic or cinnamon. Students also focused on healthy snacks and healthy eating behaviors by snacking on fresh snap peas and Tahini dip.


“My favorite part was when we tasted the sweet potatoes because we got to taste something that was healthy, not junk food,” said fifth-grader Lukas Castillo.


The partnership between Stanislaus State and Brown Elementary began this past summer after Stanislaus State Nursing Professor Dr. Diane Katsma, who was taking Swartz’s spin class at the time, found out that Swartz had also accepted a new position as the Health and Fitness Instructional Coach.


“I know Robin through a spin class she teaches at a local gym,” said Katsma. “After the spin class I saw her in the parking lot and suggested that maybe my Community Health Nursing clinical group could provide a nutritional component to her program.


“In the Central Valley we live in an agricultural area, yet our nutritional indicators in this region are poor. Being overweight or obese puts one at risk for serious diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Exposing children to healthy eating behaviors in a fun way with ‘college teachers’ who are excellent role models supports health in our community,” added Katsma.


Both Swartz and Katsma said that they are “absolutely” going to continue this collaboration in the spring with nutritional lessons hopefully connected to physical fitness activities, such as relays, circuit training exercises and nutritional Bingo on rainy days when students are unable to play outside.


“We feel it is extremely important we begin to teach our youth about the benefits of healthy eating so that hopefully they can avoid becoming part of this statistic as adults,” said nursing student Maria Miller. “We hope our students were able to make or adopt at least one healthier eating habit. If they are now eating an apple instead of a bag of chips for a snack, we feel like we have made a difference.”