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Stepping Stones incorporating healthy foods through fun activities

Through Stepping Stones Early Learning Center's Learning About Nutrition through Activities program, children learn about fruits and vegetables through different activities. Last week, students learned about sweet sugar snap peas by making "veggie bagel face" snacks.

Most parents know how difficult it can be to get young children to eat their fruits and vegetables, but Stepping Stones Early Learning Center may have found the solution.

Now in its second year, Stepping Stones has incorporated the Minnesota Department of Health's Learning About Nutrition through Activities (LANA) program into its weekly routine.

The goal of LANA is to introduce children to eight different fruits and vegetables - cherry tomatoes, broccoli, sweet sugar snap peas, sweet red peppers, sweet potatoes, kiwi and strawberries - through lessons and activities.

"There's a health element to the program of course," said Aaron Nelson, assistant director at Stepping Stones. "We're encouraging healthier eating for a healthier lifestyle."

The LANA preschool program was first developed by MDH thanks to a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Nelson said Stepping Stones decided to bring LANA to the school as a complimentary program to the healthy food program the school already has.

"We thought we'd kind of piggy back off that and bring even more healthy fruits and vegetables in," he said. "We wanted to create an even more healthy atmosphere and lifestyle for the children."

At Stepping Stones, the LANA program is divided into three areas - learning, activities, and family involvement.

On Tuesdays, children spend time learning about the vegetable or fruit for that week.

During their lessons, students learn about the history of that food and how it is grown.

Students also get hands-on experience with the fruits or vegetables by examining them and then ultimately tasting them.

Last week's lesson was on sweet sugar snap peas.

"Before they open it up it's just another green vegetable - for some reason green vegetables and children don't mix very well," Nelson said. "But having the children working hands-on and tasting first it makes them feel comfortable with trying it."

Additionally, Nelson said having all the children try the foods helps.

"Most children like the foods, but the children that don't like it might pretend to like it because the child right next to them likes it."

Stepping Stones lead teacher Larisa Lichtenberg said it's important to introduce children to new foods.

"Variety is the spice of life," she said. "It's important to try different things."

On Wednesdays, Stepping Stones uses the fruit or vegetable of the week in an afternoon snack, which the children help prepare.

Last week students made "veggie bagel faces" - cream cheese bagels that include a smiling face made out of cherry tomatoes for eyes, carrots for noses, sweet sugar snap peas for mouths and broccoli for hair.

"The fun thing about LANA is that the children do most of the cooking activities," Nelson said. "Some of these foods might be intimidating, so being able to prepare them helps draw their interest."

Some of the other snacks have included wraps, salads and smoothies.

The third component of LANA is family involvement, which is achieved through children going home and asking for the foods they've tried and the snack recipes being sent home with children.

Nelson said Stepping Stones hopes to continue expanding LANA by adding different foods, and incorporating in different snacks.

Nelson said the school is also hoping to start a garden where students can help plant and harvest the vegetables that are used in their snacks.

"They can see it from seed to snack," he said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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