LEXINGTON – Healthy vegetables and fruit offerings are everywhere these days at local schools – in morning snacks at elementary schools, in lunch menus and now they’re spreading to the after school time slot.
CATCH, an eight-week healthy eating program provides lesson plans about healthy food options and fun snacking options.
CATCH stands for: Coordinated Approach To Child Health and is funded through a Minority and Health Disparities Grant covering six counties including Dawson County, said CFI Program Coordinator Tiffany Carlson, who has helped implement the CATCH program.
Bryan, Morton and Sandoz elementary schools are in their second year offering the program.
“It’s new for them and it takes them a while to get used to it,” said Sandoz After School Coordinator Shirley Castaneda about implementing CATCH, where 25 second and third grader students participate in the program each Thursday.
CATCH starts at 4:30 p.m. at Sandoz, when Castaneda begins with a short lesson plan on nutrition and food, which involves lots of questions to students.
Recently, the lesson was about fast food and saturated fat content.
Olive and canola oils are identified as healthy types of fat, while saturated fat is identified as unhealthy, often found in fast food.
Castaneda points out that health experts advise against eating more than 20 grams of saturated fat a day.
The amount of fat in a large chocolate milkshake is compared to that in a small chocolate milk carton given out during snack time at the school.
While a large shake contains 18 grams of saturated fat, almost all of the daily allowance, a small milk carton contains 0 grams of saturated fat, clearly a healthy option, Castaneda hints.
After encouraging students to read food nutrition labels at home and in the stores, the fun part begins as students begin to prepare their daily healthy snack, a slice of raisin-cinnamon bread with peanut butter and pieces of banana inside like a hot dog – a CATCH favorite called “Elephants favorite snack.”
Castaneda said she has seen students not only get excited about eating fruits and vegetables, but has seen them and herself learn about new produce.
“The cooks were showing me a starfruit; it was a red-orange color,” Castaneda said about the new fruit offerings available to students. “I bet half the kids hadn’t even heard about it.”
After offering the CATCH program to 100-plus after school students last year with the help of volunteers and extra staff, this year the program is only offered to about 25 kindergarteners and first graders on Thursdays at Bryan Elementary School, said Krista Keim, after school coordinator at Bryan.
Besides teaching students about healthful options with catchy slogans, the class also teaches students about the importance of good hygiene, such as washing your hands before eating and brushing your teeth, Keim said.
Slogans like labeling snack foods under certain categories and giving students a color-coded food group portion plate to take home are helpful methods that have helped her students.
Keim’s students label healthy foods “Go foods” like apples and raisins; healthy foods with added sugar are labeled “Slow foods” like cereal bars and string cheese, and unhealthy foods are labeled “Whooah foods” like chips, soft drinks, candy and cookies.
“I’m glad other schools are continuing it,” Keim said about the CATCH program thriving at other schools.
At Sandoz Elementary, 25 fourth graders are involved with the CATCH program, where they have been learning about the importance of monitoring their sodium and caloric intake, said Kylee Kuecker, coordinator of the after school program at Sandoz.
“We teach them how to read food labels,” Kuecker said. “They learn how much exercise they need to burn off their food.”
Programs like CATCH, besides teaching healthy food habits, can also help combat the epidemic of obesity among young children as the program combines physical exercise into the class.
“They have got to get active,” Kuecker said.