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Fourth-graders try healthier snack alternatives

Students also learn the basics of food labels

Northview — Fourth-grader Kennedie McBride took a small bite of a piece of beet, chewed a few times and made a face that could best be described as “not a fan.” 

“Terrible,” added her West Oakview Elementary classmate and tasting partner, Mary Perez-Gonzalez before she, oddly enough, took a second bite.

The pair was tasting mostly unfamiliar but potentially healthier alternatives to less fresh and more processed favorite foods among those in their age group. Students in Leah Pietrusza and Colleen Heyboer’s classrooms spent a few weeks trying new foods and learning how to make smarter food choices. Besides beets, a recent tasting included dried banana chips and mango slices.

The fourth-graders also brought in nutrition labels of foods they typically eat at home or school and then researched healthier alternatives. Pulled from book bags and backpacks were cinnamon toaster pastry boxes, a juice box, a processed meat stick wrapper and chip bags.

Studying nutrition labels not only reveals basic dietary information such as calories, serving size and sodium content, it also drives home the notion “that it’s always better to eat food that has ingredients you can pronounce,” Heyboer told the students as she looked up data for a popular corn chip.

Teacher Leah Pietrusza prepares plates of new foods for students to try

When asked what food group a ubiquitous, budget-friendly brand of instant ramen might fall under, Jalen Bates twisted the yellow package he’d brought in from home between his fingers and guessed, “noodles?” (Spoiler: nope)

Once he learned their relatively low nutrient content, Jalen researched vegetables he could add to the noodles to boost their mineral, vitamin and fiber content, as well as to make ramen fresh. 

When it comes to getting more fruits and vegetables, “a colorful plate is more nutritious,” Evie Czechowskyj said.

Added Grace Nowak: “People who eat more vegetables are less likely to get a disease.”

Pietrusza said the lesson was something she and Heyboer added as part of their usual nutrition unit. 

She noted that she’s seen students make healthy food choices, even when less healthy choices were available. Case in point: a recent class party where pretzels, goldfish crackers and apples were offered “and the apples were gone instantly,” she recalled. “If given the choice, I think a lot of them would eat healthier, but it’s true that eating better can cost more.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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