You’ve just sat down to eat and on your plate is rice and chicken. What’s missing? Color – in the form of fruits and vegetables, of course.
To improve the nutrition and well-being of Americans, the USDA promotes creating a balanced plate for each meal you eat including grain, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy.
Food service departments in schools nationwide also follow this model – requiring students to chose a fruit and/or vegetable with each meal. But according to OSU dietetic interns working in the Bethel School District in Eugene, although students are required to choose a fruit or vegetable with their lunches, many high schoolers aren’t willing doing so on their own.
“In the Bethel School District, we observed that high school students were the least accepting of the mandatory fruit or vegetable component of federally funded school meals,” says OSU dietetic intern and College of Public Health and Human Sciences alumna Nova Elwood. “Despite daily reminders, students were still resisting selecting this as part of their meal.”
To encourage high school students to choose healthier options at lunch – and throughout their lives – Nova and a fellow dietetic intern are working to make healthy eating the more attractive choice through simple marketing techniques.
Nova got the idea to implement a healthy food cart option during an internship rotation at the Nutrition Services Department in the Bethel School District. She ran with her idea, and a $4,000 grant she wrote to implement a “Smarter Lunchrooms” approach at Willamette High School (WHS) was accepted and funded by the National Dairy Council through the Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign. The money has been used to purchase an upscale fruit cart, attractive bowls and display items that will be placed near the checkout register at WHS’ cafeteria.
“They are a community that could greatly benefit from receiving grant funding,” she says. “Not only is WHS a high needs school based on their greater than 50 percent population of free/reduced lunch students, they also are located in an area that researchers have classified as a food desert. There are four fast food restaurants within walking distance of WHS.”
Due to the nature of the internship, Nova has moved on to her last rotation, and OSU dietetic intern and CPHHS alumna Lisa Robinson will see the project through fruition.
“Research has shown that presenting food in an attractive way encourages interest and increases the number of students who choose that item.”
“Research has shown that presenting food in an attractive way encourages interest and increases the number of students who choose that item,” Lisa says. “Currently, the fruit in the high school is in a bulky, gray cart. The hope is that the nice new cart with bright colored bowls and fruit – as you might see it at a farmers’ market – will make it more attractive to students so they self-select a piece of fruit. Then, the hope is that students will adopt the concept that a meal is not complete without a fruit or vegetable, and choose to add them into meals on their own.”
Both Nova and Lisa stress the importance of creating healthy habits during high school – the transition period between being a “kid” and making choices on your own as an adult.
“High school students are given more freedom of choice and start developing patterns and habits that they will take with them into adulthood,” Lisa says. “The foods they eat today are literally the building blocks for their body and habits into the future.”
Lisa has already begun building the food cart, purchasing the bowls and planning which fruit to be displayed. She’s working with the advanced digital design class at WHS to design promotional signs that will be hung on and around the cart to encourage fruit selection.
She’s also hosting a kick-off event including raffles and prizes during the first day the cart is displayed.
About the OSU Dietetic Internship program:
Housed in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, the OSUDI is a non-credit, non-degree, post-baccalaureate program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Upon successful completion, graduates are eligible to take the RD (Registered Dietitian) exam.
During the 9.5 month program, 12 interns spend 40 hours a week in the field at various internship sites focusing on long-term senior nutrition care and community nutrition, featuring experience in traditional venues including food service, hospitals, management and community.
“The internship is a great way to prepare for a future career in dietetics because you really get to experience a lot of the things that dietitians can do,” Nova says. “By the time I have finished each of my rotations, I feel like I could do that job. You get amazing exposure to management, community nutrition, food service and medical nutrition therapy. It gives you a great opportunity to see what you like and dislike and the things that you are good at and those skills you still need to work on.”
“The internship is unique in that we work in many different settings, from hospitals and clinics to school food service to community programs like OSU Extension,” Lisa says. “In working in all of these settings, not only do we get the opportunity to experience many different career opportunities, but we also experience different work systems, atmospheres and interactions. This, along with the experience of being in the ‘real world,’ allows us to build practical skills and knowledge giving us the tools to step out of the internship and directly into our role as a dietitian.”
“The highlight of my internship has been working with the public health nurses at Clackamas County Health Department,” Nova says. “For this project, I participate in a weekly walking group at a low-income housing project in a suburb of Portland. Then, I get to do nutrition home visits with the individuals and families living in this community. I can’t express in words how extremely rewarding this work has been. I love the positivity and hope that my clients have despite their incredible barriers. Working with them to overcome those barriers has helped me to learn and grow so much as a future dietitian.”