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Program brings healthy snacks to kids

Students snack on low-fat string cheese during a classroom break Friday morning at Prairie Elementary in Worthington. A new healthy snack cart pilot program was launched Thursday for third and fourth graders. The 8-day pilot will help the school plan for what is hoped to be full implementation next fall, if a USDA healthy fruits and vegetables grant is received. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe1 / 2
DeTasha Place, (left) Nobles County Community Health Services Health Educator and Wendy Donkersloot, District 518 School Nurse, hold packages of sliced apples and string cheese that were distributed to third and fourth grade students at Prairie Elementary as part of the Healthy Snack Cart pilot project. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — A Statewide Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) mini-grant offered to Worthington’s Prairie Elementary is bringing healthy snacks to third- and fourth-grade students who are now counting down the days to summer vacation.

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The eight-day pilot project, done in collaboration with Nobles County Community Health Services, provides a nutritious treat — from apple slices to low-fat string cheese, yogurt, pretzels and clementines — to students instead of the junk food their parents often send with them to class.

The Healthy Snack Cart Pilot Program launched Thursday with 450 packages of sliced apples, courtesy of McDonald’s, distributed to students. Friday’s healthy treat was string cheese.

Other schools throughout the state have implemented similar programs, and Worthington District 518 Nurse Wendy Donkersloot said she hopes offering healthy snacks at Prairie Elementary will lead to healthy choices at home.

“It’s a concern here at Prairie Elementary because staff have noticed that students are not bringing very healthy snacks,” Donkersloot said.

Topping the list of junk food is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, followed by the Hispanic version of the snack, Takis. Chips, cookies and home-baked goods are also commonly brought in by students.

“With all of the evidence showing that eating something healthy can contribute to increased academic success, more energy, greater focus and positive behavior in class … we just thought this was a great place to start,” Donkersloot said.

A portion of the $5,250 SHIP mini-grant was used to purchase a large crate cooler, dry storage rack, two mobile wheeled carts, storage bins and teacher resources for the program. The school district and Nobles County Community Health Services (NCCHS) are now awaiting confirmation of a USDA grant that will fund fresh fruit and vegetables for the snack carts. They hope to hear about the grant award before the end of the school year.

“We just thought having a trial run this spring might (help it to) be more successful when we start in the fall,” said DeTasha Place, NCCHS health educator. Following the eight-day pilot project, she will gather input from students, teachers, parents and food service staff about the program and perhaps tweak some things before the healthy snack carts roll out this fall on a regular basis.

“If we get the fresh fruit and vegetable grant, we would do the snacks for the entire school,” said Place, adding that each snack costs 22 to 25 cents, or $40 to $50 per student per year. That cost doesn’t include snack preparation.

“We’re pretty positive that we will get the fresh fruit and vegetable program grant,” she said. “It’s based on our free and reduced rates, and Prairie Elementary has a 73.2 free and reduced lunch rate.

“We’re hoping to affect kids who really do need that healthy snack that might not be getting it at home,” she added.

Not only will students get the healthy snack, they will also get some education about healthy foods along with it. Teachers have been provided “fun facts” about the snacks the students receive.

The goal of the program is to get kids closer to the suggested daily intake of two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables.

“With SHIP, we believe that health begins where we live, work, learn and play, so we’re trying to implement healthy choices for the kids here at school,” Place said.

The SHIP program launched in Minnesota in 2008 with the goal to help Minnesotans live longer, healthier lives by building healthy communities, she added.

“Physically active and fit kids tend to have better academic achievement, and healthy students have fewer absences from school,” said Donkersloot. “These are things that we know; and by doing this, hopefully we’re one step closer to making it happen.”

Donkersloot encouraged community partners — restaurants or organizations — willing to contribute either time or money to help make the healthy snack cart a success to call her at 727-1251.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

(507) 376-7330