Passport to Health
NEP’s international program tempts kids with good foods from around the world.
It may still look like Brockton on the outside, but inside the George School’s cafeteria it’s Italy…. or China, Mexico, Portugal, or the Caribbean, thanks to NEP’s remarkably successful international foods curriculum.
“The idea is to introduce the students to a variety of healthy foods from diverse cultures and to improve their nutritional well-being by suggesting ways to boost the nutrition in their diet. Say’s FNP Project Leader Andrea Gulezian. In other words, “We help kids to eat healthier by offering them fun, tasty choices prepared in healthy, non traditional ways.”
Indeed, those healthy foods like carrots—along with kale, zucchini, tomatoes, and whole wheat pasta, among other goodies—are gobbled up happily by students in one Brockton school each year, in the form of pasta fagiole, Portuguese stew, chicken stir-fry, and a whole host of delectable dishes from around the world. Each NEP visit takes kids, teachers, and school staff to a different region where, in addition to trying new healthy foods, kids get to dance and sing to music from another culture, brighten the halls with thematic art projects, and take an imaginary journey courtesy of the magic genie in NEP’s round-the-world skit. “The whole school participates,” says Gulezian.
To call the reception enthusiastic is an understatement. “My kindergarteners ate up the Portuguese soup and asked for more,” reports Teresa Mitchell, a paraprofessional educator at the George School. “I was amazed! They never would have tried these foods if it hadn’t been for NEP’s international program.” Around, 90 percent of the students, from kindergarten on up, tried the international menu on the program’s first day this year. According to Tom McNeely, Chartwells Food Service Director in Brockton, “The students truly get excited and enjoy the program. The food service department is delighted to contribute to this special event."
One inspiration for the program was to reflect the cultural backgrounds of many of the students “We have such a multicultural audience in Brockton,” explains Gulezian. “We’ll say to the kids, ‘Is anyone from or have family from ….….’ and the hands just go right up.” That goes a long way toward helping students feel more comfortable bringing up healthy foods choices from their home countries, and encouraging other students to try new flavors.
“Changing their minds about what they think they like and don’t like can have a huge impact on a child,” says Gulezian. “Next time they see kale, they’re going to remember it and maybe even try it again!.” They certainly remember NEP. Year after year, says Gulezian, as the students grow and move through the grades, they continue to greet NEP staff with a big “Hi, Genie!” and ask them questions.
“When you’re introduced to something new, it stays with you at that age,” explains Gulezian. “Over time, small changes make the biggest difference.”