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The value of a good “veg-ucation”

SNACK ATTACK — Students at Lewis and Clark Elementary School learn about healthy snacks and exercise from Jenny Rudolph

When kids at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in St. Helens have a snack attack, they know they’ll end up with something healthy and nutritious.  Thanks to the efforts of Tish Hora, the the school district nurse and Extension educator  Jenny Rudolph, the new after-school program is teaching young students about healthy choices.

During a recent Snack Attack, the name of hte after-school programs, the students stood in front of a table of ingredients not out of place in any young child’s diet: orange juice, yogurt, bananas. They were learning to make a smoothie and anxiously waiting to find out what the “secret ingredient” would be added.

When Rudolph, Columbia County Extension Service educator pulled out a giant bag of fresh spinach, the kids faces fell flat as they quieted down. Finally, one boy broke the silence. “Does it have to have spinach?” he said. “Spinach is the best part,” Rudolph replied.

Call it a “veg-ucation.” The program was created by Hora and Rudolph last fall.  Hora, noticing the increasing waist sizes of her students, decided to start doing Body Mass Index (BMI) testing at McBride Elementary School. The results were shocking, she said.

Hora discovered that nearly 40 percent of the children were either overweight or obese according to their BMI, which measures fat in comparison to height and weight. “That’s a scary number,” she said. Just four years earlier the district stopped measuring the weight and height of students. There weren’t enough volunteers and nothing was being done with the data, Hora said. In Oregon, recent statistics show that one in four children are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese brings a number of potential health concerns, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Discovering the problem was the first step. Helping to halt the trend was another challenge altogether.

Lifestyle switch

In an effort to do something about the problem, Hora reached out to Rudolph and the pair worked to create the program. Rudolph also manages the SNAP-Ed (or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education) federal grant in the county. SNAP-Ed’s mission is to reach limited-income audiences with nutrition education. They teach in-school courses in Rainier, Clatskanie and St. Helens. Hora and Rudolph hoped for 20 kids, but the turnout was so high they had to turn some students away. “People are interested,” Hora said. Hora thinks the Snack Attack classes can eventually evolve past the basic lessons being taught now, including snack recipes, exercise plans and nutrition education.

What are the causes?

Kids are traditionally known as bundles of energy, running around the playground or playing games in their backyard. But with greater access to fattening foods from restaurant chains and the increasing role of technology in their lives, children are becoming more and more sedentary, Hora said. “Kids don’t know how to play,” she observed. “Playing for them is getting their (Nintendo) DS out and shooting people up.” The obesity epidemic has dire consequences. “This generation has got a shorter life expectancy than their parents,” Hora said. That’s why Hora and Rudolph hope their outreach will make a dent on the minds – and bodies – of young children. Last week, after Rudolph finished blending the spinach smoothie, the group of kids watching took reluctant sips. A few hold back, but others gulp them down, surprised at the sweet taste. “It’s green, but it’s good,” a boy named Taylor said after putting down his glass. Mission accomplished.

The Popeye Power Smoothie



• 1 cup orange juice
• 1/2 cup pineapple juice
• 1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
• 1 banana
• 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
• Crushed ice


1. Combine all ingredients in a blender
2. Puree until smooth
3. Serve immediately

Recipe makes four servings. Each serving contains 100 calories, no fat, 23 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of protein.

More healthy recipes like this one can be found online at the OSU Extension Healthy Recipes Website

Commentary by Stover E. Harger III: The South County Spotlight