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Fun curriculum links classroom nutrition education to cafeteria and home

Fantastic Five enlists colorful characters, in-class lesson plans, and food events to foster students’ engagement with healthy eating

For six years, The Collegiate School in Richmond, Virginia has implemented Link It & Live It, a wellness program focused on the connection between sleep, healthful eating, physical activity and how each impacts students’ hearts, brains, and bodies. In April 2015, the school, which includes grades Pre-K through high school, asked Aladdin, their foodservice company for 10 years, to help develop a program that would integrate nutrition education in the classroom and cafeteria. Aladdin is a unit of Elior North America. 

Aladdin worked with a creative agency over the next four months to develop Fantastic Five, a food and nutrition curriculum for lower school students. Launched last school year, the inaugural program included colorful, fun characters that represent the five food groups; lesson plans with classroom teachings reinforced with learning collateral for the classroom and cafeteria; Try it Tuesday, opportunities to taste the foods being discussed; and recipe cards that students bring home to their families. 

“Danielle Smith, RD, Director of Nutrition Programs, along with several other dietitians, originally came up with the Fantastic Five characters and then the creative agency tweaked them,” says Bonnie Bland, Aladdin’s VP of Nutrition, Standards, and Compliance, who helped develop the program. “There’s a strawberry called Frankie Fruit, a carton of milk named Danny Dairy, Priscilla Protein is an egg, Victor Veggie is broccoli and Gracie Grain is bread.”  The characters appear on mobiles and banners in the cafeteria as well as on food-identifying signs that help young students connect food served to the food groups. 

The goal, Bland says, is to help educate Pre-K-4th graders on the importance of making good, healthy choices at lunchtime and beyond. “Working with the school, we sent the creative agency topics we wanted explored and they came up with the curriculum and marketing material,” said Bland. Each teacher receives a binder of four lesson plans per month with materials and discussion topics designed for the Pre-K and 1st grade level or for students in 2nd to 4th grades. 

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Signage and displays in the cafeteria reinforce classroom lessons about the benefits of different foods.

Fantastic Five kicked off last September with the Monthly Food Focus on pears. Younger students were taught the color, shapes, and basic nutrition of anjou, barlett, bosc and seckel varieties while older students covered how they grow, the historical context for their production in the U.S., and the parts of the body that benefit from the food’s nutrition.“As part of Try It Tuesday, we sampled different pears in the cafeteria and sent home recipes for pear salsa and pear crisp,” says Bland. “There was also an art component: We used a tree sticker decal on a cafeteria wall and then the students colored in pears that we placed on the tree branches through the month.” 

Other weeks, Fantastic Five classroom lessons extended into the cafeteria showcasing different jars of grains or different kinds of squash purposefully located at children’s eye level. During the holidays, staff made a Christmas tree out of cheese. The monthly food focuses are also incorporated into the meal plan menu beyond Try It Tuesday samples, which are available to all 650 lower school students, not just the those on the meal plan. 

“The reaction has been great,” says Bland, “kids love and identify the characters and they are more engaged in nutrition. Teachers love the binders and all the included materials. The Collegiate School is very focused on wellness and parents were very involved in the launch. One mother even made Fantastic Five character costumes for the first assembly, and the kids sang songs about nutrition. That excitement and energy continued throughout the school year.” 

The program includes three years of curriculum so that by the time it revisits the same foods, students will be at the next level of discussion.

“This coming year we’ll be placing our Fantastic Five characters around the cafeteria in a sort of an elf-on-the shelf way,” says Bland. “And while the teachers love the organized binders of lesson plans, this year the goal for them is to complete two Fantastic Five lessons a month with the option of doing as many as four.” 

The Collegiate School is just the beginning for Victor Veggie and Frankie Fruit. “We’re currently working on something similar to launch in the middle school this coming school year,” says Bland. “We also hope to roll out this program to other clients very soon.”

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