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Becoming Knights who know nutrition

Kenowa Hills — “Look at my apples!” a Zinser Elementary student yelled to school nurse Courtney Ellens after she entered the cafeteria.

“I’m eating cucumbers,” said another student. 

Ellens smiled. “They get so excited when they see me come in with my roll of stickers,” she said. 

The students proudly displayed their fruits and vegetables, hoping to get a point added to “Ms. Courtney’s list.” When Ellens sees a student eating fruits or vegetables with their lunch, they earn a point; if they earn five points, they get a sticker. 25 points earns a water bottle and 50 can be redeemed for a T-shirt. 

To those students who approached her but didn’t have enough points yet, Ellens encouraged them, “Keep eating healthy and you’ll get one.”

Nurse Courtney Ellens started the Knights Who Know Nutrition program at Zinser to encourage healthy eating (courtesy)

Healthier Choices, Fewer Leftovers

Ellens started Zinser’s Knights Who Know Nutrition program at the beginning of January to encourage students to make healthier choices at lunch.

One of Kenowa Hills’ eight school nurses contracted by Healthbar, Ellens said the company funded the supplies because they encourage their nurses to pursue passion projects. 

“I’m really passionate about nutrition and teaching students how to live healthier,” she said. “I teach lessons about mental and physical health, but I wanted to bring more fun into it and help our whole community be healthy.”  

Lunchroom aide Karly Kozminski said she noticed more students choosing fruits and vegetables from the lunch line and eating them instead of throwing them away. 

“When they see Ms. Courtney in the cafeteria with stickers, they’re ready to show her their fruits and veggies that they’re eating for lunch,” Kozminski said. “We re-opened our share bin for leftover, uneaten food after Covid and there is less food left over on days she visits the cafeteria.” 

These Knights Know Nutrition 

Ellens said she has also noticed more students trying new foods at lunch and liking them. 

“Students tell me they’re going home and asking their parents to pack carrots and apples in their lunches instead of cookies and Rice Krispies treats,” she said. “It makes me so happy.” 

When students at Zinser Elementary eat fruits and vegetables with their lunch, they can earn a sticker (courtesy)

When students eat sugary snacks, Ellens reminds them, “Everything in moderation. We don’t want to shame anyone for eating the cookies.”  

Second-grader Brooks Perry said his favorite vegetable to eat at lunch are carrots.  

“I didn’t really eat as many veggies before the stickers, but now I try more and like them,” he said. “I have, like, 10 stickers so far. I’m going for the T-shirt which is 50 points, but I won’t stop eating healthy foods after I earn it. 

He added: “Eating healthy helps make you tall and strong and you feel good when you’re eating (fruits and vegetables).”

Next school year, Ellens said she wants to bring the program to Alpine and Central elementaries. 

“I’m constantly thinking about what education we can provide to prevent physical and mental health issues for our students,” she said. “Eating healthy helps you feel good and students perform better in school.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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