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Students bite into healthy eating, learn wellness tips


Mari DeJonge visited first graders as they nibbled their lunches at Campus Elementary School, encouraging them to eat their pears, peas and carrots along with their rice, chicken and milk.

Many thanks to Kent County Health Department for sponsoring SNN

The students eagerly obliged. “I ate all of mine!” one student informed her, while another picked up her fork and dug in.

“I dare them to try the foods they don’t always try,” said DeJonge, a YMCA Nutrition in Action educator who leads weekly lessons on healthy eating and exercise at Campus and four other GRPS schools. She recently started visiting during lunchtime as well, to carrying her message forward into the cafeteria through a new program called Smarter Lunchroom.

First-grader Nariah Higgins got a sticker for trying her fruits and vegetables

Nutritious foods develop superpowers like running fast, jumping high and doing well in school, she says, a message that makes the students smile

Campus Elementary is using a multi-faceted, whole-school approach to encourage healthy living, with students and staff members following tips of new marketing campaign, dubbed Get Real, that’s been put together by Kent County Health Connect in conjunction with the Community Health Improvement Team Healthy Eating and Active Living Task Force.

The campaign’s outreach includes connections with local schools, including Campus, where students and parents this fall were introduced to Get Real. Written materials about the campaign are provided at monthly parent meetings, and promotional posters can be found throughout the building, said Earnestine Mays, community school coordinator at Campus.

The school’s efforts include collaborating with the Grand Rapids-area YMCA and Spectrum Health to help kids and parents get and stay healthy. Along with Nutrition in Action and Smarter Classroom, the YMCA’s Veggie and Fruit Van brings fresh vegetables and fruits to students weekly and a Spectrum Health Heart Healthy class for parents and guardians focuses on diet and exercise.

First-grader Maiya Townsend nibbles her pears

Parents and students will also learn to cook healthy meals through a YMCA Cooking Matters class, while parents will also be provided suggestions on self-care at monthly parent meetings. Campus’ health outreach efforts could extend into next spring, Mays said.

“We hope to offer a couple of opportunities for student to ride their bikes to school, and to offer more opportunities for parents to learn about self-care,” she said.

Simple Steps Toward Well-Being

The campaign’s message is that improving health doesn’t require spending large amounts of money on exercise equipment or fad diets, but can be as simple as heeding some basic tips: Go outside and play. Take a walk around the block. Lighten up on the sweets. Eat your veggies.

Get RealIn other words, Get Real.

“Get Real aims to remind people about the kind of simple health messages and tips that we learned from our grandmothers, grandfathers, parents and teachers,” says Cassie Kobler, a program supervisor with the Kent County Health Department. “These messages remind us that with one small step we have the power to build a healthy tomorrow for ourselves, our children and our community.”

Get Real also features members of the Kent County community who are sharing their stories of how they stay healthy by eating right, exercising, getting enough rest, and spending time with friends and family.

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Gregory Chandler
Greg Chandler has worked as a journalist in West Michigan for 30 years. A graduate of Central Michigan University, Miami (Ohio) University and Grand Valley State University, he has written for The Grand Rapids Press and the Holland Sentinel, as well as several magazines. He is formerly the news director at WHTC-AM in Holland and also served as publicist for the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. In addition to writing for School News Network, he is a correspondent for The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, and also broadcasts high school and college sporting events in the Holland area. He currently resides in Grand Rapids.

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