Could you use some fresh ideas for your nutrition education curriculum? Does planning a years worth of food-related activities seem daunting? To liven up nutrition education, look no further than the calendar! Days and even months have been set aside throughout the year to celebrate foods and nutrition.
January, February & March
The first month of the year is designated as both National Soup Month and Oatmeal Month. In addition, National Pizza Week and National Popcorn Day are in January. All of these foods supply ideas for activities with the children. You may want to have the children make vegetable soup or oatmeal cookies.
Slicing a pizza is a great way to work on math concepts, like counting. Popcorn Day is an opportunity to show how a small corn kernel explodes into a favorite snack.
February is the month for National Pancake Week and Potato Lovers Month. What better time to read a picture book like Eric Carles Pancakes, Pancakes to the children? Potatoes lend themselves to all kinds of activities, from art projects using potatoes as stamps to gardening experiences.
As the March winds blow outside your windows, celebrate National Nutrition Month. The new nutritional guidelines are available from the U. S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA). The USDA website allows you to personalize the food pyramid based on gender, age, and activity level. Use this feature as your guide for planning nutrition education for the children. March is also National Peanut Month. Research continues to indicate that eating small portions of nuts, such as walnuts, can be beneficial to health. Many children enjoy peanut butter on sandwiches and crackers and as a dip for fruits and vegetables. Before planning a peanut celebration or eating other nuts, make sure no children in the group have nut or peanut allergies. Popcorn and peanuts can be a choking hazard; watch children as they eat these foods.
April, May & June
April showers bring May flowers, and also National Garden Week. What an excellent opportunity to teach children about how a seed becomes a food! Gardening projects can range from elaborate outdoor gardens the children plan to simple individual container plants.
Earth Day is also in April. This is a chance to teach children about the importance of not littering and correctly disposing of food wrappers and packaging to keep the Earth clean. In honor of National Arbor Day, which is also in April, why not plant a fruit-bearing tree? Consult your local Cooperative Extension center for advice on which varieties of trees are suitable for your climate.
May is National Physical Education and Sports Month. The sunshine and warm temperatures of May make it an excellent time to go outdoors and exercise. Remind children that they get energy for play from the foods they eat.
May also is National Strawberry Month. Celebrate with a strawberry yogurt smoothie and a read-aloud of The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood.
June is Dairy Month. If you have access to a nearby dairy farm or milk processing plant, you might arrange a field trip. If that is not possible, celebrate dairy products at your childcare site. June also is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month. Involve children in preparing salads using fresh fruits and vegetables.
July, August & September
Celebrate Independence Day with a picnic! National Picnic Month is July. Help the children pack a picnic lunch of healthy foods and eat in the great outdoors. The nice thing about picnics is that they need not be elaborate. A sandwich in a paper bag can be just as fun as a fancy basket!
When you are planning that picnic, consider taking blueberries for dessert. National July Belongs to Blueberries Month is a wonderful time to introduce these very nutritious berries into the childrens meals and snacks.
Summer brings the ripest, juiciest fruits, and to honor this August is National Peach Month. August also has Watermelon Day and National Sandwich Month. Help the children build their own sandwiches, and conclude with a reading of The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway.
September is National Food Safety Month. This is a good time to remind children of good handwashing practices. Remember, the rule of thumb is that children should sing the Happy Birthday song through twice while washing their hands.
National 5-A-Day Week, created to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, is in September. If you prepare a newsletter for childrens families, remember to mention National Eat Dinner Together Week. Meals are a good time for families to share and connect with each other after a hectic day.
Johnny Appleseeds birthday is in September. Celebrate this folk hero with apple-themed activities. Let children sample a variety of apple products, such as applesauce, dried apples, and apple juice. Assemble a variety of apples and talk about their differences in terms of color, shape, size, taste, and texture.
October, November & December
October is Cookbook Month. Show the children a variety of cookbooks and then let them make-up their own recipes. Work through a simple recipe together, from assembling the ingredients to eating the result!
October also is National Pasta Month. Some childrens experiences with pasta may be limited to spaghetti and macaroni, so bring in some of the more unusual pasta shapes for them to enjoy.
National Clean Out Your Fridge Day is in November. This is a good time to clean out any out-of-date foods that may have gotten pushed to the back of the refrigerator.
Homemade bread day also is in November. Bring in examples of different types of breads from ethnic foods--such as tortillas, pita bread, matzah bread, and others--and use them to discuss different cultures.
Finish the year with National Cookie Cutter Week in December. Cookie cutters have a variety of uses for young children, from art projects to dough cookies. National Cocoa Day is also in December, so sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and congratulate yourself on a full year of food and nutrition education!
Marna Holland, Visiting Assistant Professor, Western Carolina University and doctoral student at North Carolina State University
For more ideas, go to the consumer section of www.idahopotato.com, the Idaho Potato Commissions website.
The National Gardening Association offers tips for gardening with children at www.kidsgardening.com.
For ideas for how you can celebrate Earth Day with children, go to www.earthday.net and look for the Teachers Corner
For childrens Arbor Day activities, go to www.arborday.org and look for Carlys Kids Corner
Take a look at Strawberryville for Kids and Teachers on the California Strawberry Commissions website at www.calstrawberry.com for ideas.
National Dairy Councils nutrition education website, www.nutritionexplorations.org.
California Cling Peach Boards site, www.calclingpeach.com, or the University of Georgias site, www.griffin.peachnet.edu/caes/gapeach/
National Watermelon Promotion Boards website, www.watermelon.org
For ideas for teachers, go to www.5aday.com
The Maryland Apple Promotion Board has compiled a list of apple-oriented websites and activities for children at www.marylandapples.org/kids.htm.
The USDA website, teamnutrition.usda.gov