TryDay teaches kids about healthy food, and where it comes from

Students at Stewart give their take on cucumbers. From bottom left, clockwise: Zariah Rayos, Ashden Munson, Quentin McKenney, and Waya Lewis (Courtesy of Liz Goodwin)

Volunteer Becky Widmer teaches kids about where the day’s healthy snack comes from, before they get a chance to sample it. (Photo courtesy of Kerri Bell)

Mid-Prairie Student Lisette Rodriquez Yoder holds up a chart showing various types of apples (Courtesy of Kerri Bell)

WASHINGTON — Around 12 years ago, the Iowa Department of Public Health launched the statewide “Pick a Better Snack” program. In years since, those involved have adapted the healthy living outreach, making it their own. The new version, as run by Washington County’s ISU Extension Service, is called TryDay.

Once a month, staff and volunteers visit Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade classrooms (depending on the building,) to introduce a new fruit or vegetable, talk about where it comes from, and give it a taste.

“The kids get to see it, investigate it, use all their senses,” Amy Green, Washington County 4-H and youth coordinator said. “They learn about how it’s grown, learn about where it’s grown, learn about how it’s harvested, ways to eat it, how it helps their body, and then they get to try it.”

Green said the lessons were on-brand for the local group.

“Healthy Living is a priority topic of 4-H, so it aligns very much with what our goals are in reaching youth,” she said.

The lessons stick with the kids. Green said she was often greeted by older students when she visited buildings.

“I was at the middle school doing a different program with eighth-graders, and several kids asked me, ‘Do you have our snacks?’” she said. “They could remember to back when they were in first grade and had that program. That’s powerful for us, to show that those lessons stuck with them … and hopefully it’s impacting some of their choices.”

It helps that Green’s visits are a special occasion, not a routine interaction with parents or teachers.

“The extension has that privileged position in that we get to be the guest speaker, and the special person,” she said. “And the special person that brings snacks is a really special person. So the kids really listen, and they’re all engaged, and they’re listening and absorbing it … the kids listen to us, kind of in a different way.”

The lessons come with four rules, which are posted in classrooms and around cafeterias.

  1. Be brave, try new things
  2. If you try it, and you don’t like it, it’s OK
  3. Never ever say, ‘Yuck’
  4. Use your manners

“It’s a good way, the whole building can use that language and talk about those things,” Green said. “These rules aren’t just during try day, but these rules also apply at the lunch room, and also at a restaurant.”

Teachers said they were pleased with the program.

“It’s so important for our kids to know today where our food comes from, how it’s grown,” Mid-Prairie Second Grade teacher Kerri Bell said. “Oftentimes we have kids that have never tried that fruit or vegetable, and love it.”

The kids, for their part, are also enthusiastic about TryDay.

“They love it when she comes in, and they’re very honest about whether they like something or don’t like something,” said Stewart Elementary first grade teacher Liz Goodwin. “They obviously enjoy an extra snack, and it’s great that it’s a healthy one.”

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