Jake Billman is a little unsure of bean sprouts, but he did try them. The Meadowbrook Elementary School fifth-grader said he "wasn't much of a fan" of the vegetable, but there are plenty of other fruits and vegetables out there he likes, loves and will devour.

That's just what school nurse Rita Dzintars hopes students picked up during "Eat Your Colors ... But Not Your Crayons Week" at the school last week. It's the third year for the program, in which students are encouraged to try new fruits and vegetables, think of ways to eat healthier and learn more about nutrition.

Except this year, thanks to a grant through the Rapid City Public School Foundation, Dzintars was able to take the hands-on activities to a new level. With help from parents and students, Dzintars designed and built an 8-1/2-foot inflatable color cube.

"We were trying to get the kids a little more excited this year," she said.

The cube, which reached to the ceiling and was made of the main healthy food colors, was large enough to hold a class of 30 students.

During the week, students wore a selected color for the day, had a nutrition lessons and taste-tested inside the Color Cube. Students also were read to inside the cube and some classes watched movies.

On "red day," the students ate tomatoes, apples and other healthy red foods.

"We're trying to get them to taste new things in new ways," she said. "It's pretty much a new experience."

During one activity, the students made a clown salad - a face made out of vegetables. A red cheery nose reminded students that red is good for the heart and blood, green helps teeth and bones, and orange helps the eyes.

The colors, Dzintars said, help different areas of the body.

"The big word of the week was nutrients - that is, what makes the food healthy," she added.

The effort was building-wide, she said.

Daily announcements provided students with information about the benefit of the eating the color of the day, cafeteria workers wore themed aprons and hats and physical education class included activities that went along with the color scheme of the day.

"It's kind of an all-put effort to focus on nutrition and making healthy choices," Dzintars said. " ... It's so important to establish healthy habits, eat five different colors every day, and having them learn what is nutrition and what is not."

Dorian Baldes, also a fifth-grader at the school, thinks he learned a little something.

"I learned that candy and junk food can give you quick energy, but healthy food gives you lasting energy," he said.

The cube, he said, "was really cool," and bigger than he thought it was going to be.

His favorite healthy foods are cucumbers or kiwis, but he did admit he enjoys a slice of cake every now and then.

Dzintars said she was inspired to start the program because Meadowbrook is not a Title I school, and does not receive weekly fruits and vegetables. She wanted to find a way to teach the kids, at an early age, how to be healthy and take care of their bodies.

"Our parents do provide a lot of that at home, but we do have a lot of children who don't get it," she said.

Jake was pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by friends who enjoyed the week's activities as much as he did.

"They all liked it," he said. "They actually tried a few new fruits and vegetables that they liked."

 

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