Early Sprouts and Nutrition Explorers

We all know the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, but how do you get children to try new healthy foods and incorporate more veggies into their daily diets? Arnie Kinnunen, a health educator at Western U.P. Health Department, uses hands-on, research-based garden-to-table activities as he works with hundreds of children ages 4-12 and their families with the goal of introducing them to new foods, gardening, and healthier lifestyles.

The health department received a SNAP Education grant to provide nutrition classes to western U.P. children and families. SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps”), a program of the USDA, funds Michigan grantees to provide nutrition education through a grant to the MNN (Michigan Nutrition Network), and our agency receives funding to provide programs to preschoolers  enrolled in BHK Head Start/Preschool classes across three counties, and to K-6 students in the Great Explorations summer program at 8 elementary schools. We call the preschool program Early Sprouts and the summer gardening program Nutrition Explorers.

The curricula, adapted by Arnie and health department registered dietitian Jean Ballone, feature age-appropriate activities that get kids handling seeds and soil, and tasting various fresh foods. When young people learn where their food comes from and actually plant, grow and harvest vegetables, research shows that they are more likely to add healthy foods into their diets.

Arnie and preschoolers in Aura (rural Baraga County) tasting carrots

Nutrition Explorers planting tomatoes at the L'Anse school, June 2011

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