This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.
For many parents, encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables can be an exhausting battle. This is not the case for Matt Perkins, a fifth-grader at Rudyard Elementary School in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula. His mother, Karen Perkins, says Matt often encourages his parents to eat more vegetables and loves going to the grocery store and cooking dinner for the family.
"Matt will get on my case and ask me if I have vegetables for dinner," Karen says. "He’s always on us to make healthier choices."
Karen says this love of food and cooking was instilled in Matt due to the LifeSPAN program at Rudyard Elementary in the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD). Through EUPISD’s LifeSPAN program, nutrition facilitators host classes to promote healthy eating among students. One of the components of their nutrition education programming uses Michigan Harvest of the Month™ (MiHOTM™) educational materials to educate children about fruits and vegetables. Materials include posters, recipe cards, food tasting activities, and the MiHOTM™ online recipe collection.
A Michigan Harvest of the Month™ flyer about broccoli.
MiHOTM™ is made possible through Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) funding. MiHOTM™ materials are aligned with both the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards and are based on the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. MFF is a State Implementing Agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP-Ed is an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout the state of Michigan. MFF also collaborates with the Michigan Department of Education to bring MiHOTM™ materials to schools as part of the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
Paula Finfrock, LifeSPAN project director in Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District, shares a Michigan Harvest of the Month™ recipe at an outreach event at the Kinross Recreation Center.
Mary Moomaw, senior project manager at MFF, says MiHOTM™ resources are designed to help families eat more fruits and vegetables. “To make sure we are eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, we need to know how to buy, store, and use them,” Moomaw says. “That’s how our MiHOTM™ materials help. The materials provide hands-on opportunities to explore, taste, and learn about the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. And the MiHOTM™ recipes complement the materials by providing easy recipes to add more fruits and vegetables to our meals at home.”
Paula Finfrock serves as the project director for the LifeSPAN program at EUPISD. She says nutrition facilitators use the MiHOTM™ materials to educate children about fruits and vegetables. Children in the younger grades can try MiHOTM™ featured fruits and vegetables, and older children are able to cook recipes using featured fruits and vegetables from the MiHOTM™ online recipe collection in class during their core nutrition lessons.
She says MiHOTM™ is an integral part of their LifeSPAN program because it includes fruits and vegetables easily found in Michigan grocery stores and farmers markets. And she says introducing children at an early age to a variety of fruits and vegetables through MiHOTM™ activities allows them to be curious and try new things.
Matt Perkins and his father, Jason Perkins, cooking together. Karen Perkins says their family will often have their own "Chopped" competitions at home based on the popular TV show.
"It’s experiential learning," Finfrock says. "They see each other and their peers tasting things they haven’t tried before, so they’re more inclined to taste it themselves. We're trying to build those skills early on."
For the Perkins family, Matt’s classroom nutrition education lessons have expanded into learnings for the family at home, too. Karen Perkins says the MiHOTM™ recipes encourage her family to not only try new foods, but learn new ways to cook, from incorporating healthy cooking techniques to experimenting with different ways to cut and chop produce. She says Matt often comes home after making a MiHOTM™ recipe in class and asks to make it for us. Karen says her family has "really loved" many of the recipes.
"It’s a cool opportunity for our family to try new things and get more fruits and vegetables on our plates," she says.
MiHTOM™ resources are also widely used in the community, especially at local farm markets through MFF's Farmers Market Food Navigators program. Farmers Market Food Navigators provide individualized support to shoppers at the markets that include food demonstrations, recipe cards, market tours and tips that help shoppers maximize their food dollars.
The LifeSPAN team also shares MiHOTM™ materials at local grocery stores. Finfrock says she and her team will set up a booth in a supermarket and share samples of a fruit, vegetable, or a MiHOTM™ recipe that they've shared in the classroom. Finfrock says this is a great outlet for them to share MiHOTM™ recipes and connect more directly with parents.
A Michigan Harvest of the Month™ flyer about apples.
Finfrock says their nutrition education and MiHOTM™ outreach has helped families in their community realize that healthy eating tastes good and doesn't have to be expensive.
"The recipes use everyday items like tortillas filled with veggies and a little cheese for easy and quick meals," Finfrock says. "So parents feel it is doable to make something healthy that’s simple to make and affordable. When we teach kids about nutrition in the schools using these recipes, and then the kids bring the recipes home, parents know their kids have already tried them and like them."
Karen Perkins says the MiHOTM™ recipes help her family try fruits and vegetables that they wouldn’t normally buy. More importantly, she says the cooking skills Matt has learned in the classroom will serve him well in the future.
"Most parents are super busy and work full time," Karen Perkins says. "How cool is it for kids to learn to cook and help out a bit at home? This program has helped instill healthy habits, a love for cooking and eating healthy food in our family."