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Learning How To ‘Eat The Rainbow’ 

Second-graders Justin, Sydney, Isabella and Sascha munch on a helping of red fruit as part of Eating The Rainbow week.

Eating The Rainbow, a nutrition program started by Chestnut Hill Elementary School parents, has become so infectious that even the school principal turned into an apple—for a day, that is.

Every day this week, Principal Maryann Fasciana sported a different fruit or vegetable costume as a way to get in the spirit of Eating The Rainbow week, when elementary students celebrated a different health food, represented by a color of the rainbow, through Friday.

Cofounders Lynn Epstein, Sharon Pesner, Celines Brandsterrer and Nancy Mahdessian developed the idea four years ago during a brainstorming session at a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meeting. Since the program’s inception at Chestnut Hill, it has planted its seeds into the cafeterias of Otsego, Paumanok, Sunquam and Vanderbilt elementary schools. A school in Maryland has also implemented the program and, Pesner said, school districts in Texas and Oregon are also working toward its implementation.

To combat overexposure to junk food and ads, often targeted at children, Pesner said the foursome developed a marketing strategy that would grab children’s attention and make eating fruits and vegetables “cool” and “fun.”

According to Bonnie Scally, child nutrition director for the Half Hollow Hills School District, produce consumption at Chestnut Hill has increased by at least 15 percent since the program was introduced.

“It’s a great program and it has definitely increased awareness about different types of fruits and vegetables. The educational component is really good and the parent involvement is great,” Scally said.

From the very first year with only a $300 stipend, the PTA members hit the ground running to make the program a success. The founders, Epstein said, worked tirelessly to handcraft posters and artwork to enhance the program’s presence in the school and, with a donation from Home Depot, painted a rainbow mural in the cafeteria that left a permanent mark on the school.

Looking to leave an even greater mark on the children by inspiring healthy eating habits, the founders persisted to enhance the project by sending out magazine and recipe packets and fact sheets, and creating a website for the program.

The mothers also installed a six-bed garden at the school comprised of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and more for the kids to care for throughout the school year.

Each grade level, Pesner explained, is assigned a specific garden bed, and classes tend to the crops during science labs. When the time comes to harvest the crops in early fall, the children are able to eat what they planted, bring the vegetables home and make meals using the healthy ingredients.

“It was frustrating [at first]. Junk food was always so cool and so hard to compete with, and as a parent you try so hard to teach healthy lessons at home but when kids leave they are bombarded with junk,” Pesner said.

Plastered with more 200 posters dedicated to making fruits and vegetables pretty and popular, the hallways of Chestnut Hill send the message to kids that eating healthy is desirable for all classmates.

“The positive peer influence is one of the main purposes of the whole program,” Epstein said.

The PTA granted the program $1,000 this year, which went toward promoting the week and supplying fruits and vegetables for the kids to sample during lunch periods.

On Monday, kids from all grades eagerly waited their turn for a Dixie cup filled with red grapes and peppers for “red” day. For “orange” day on Tuesday, the kids tried orange fruits and veggies. They sampled yellow peppers and pineapple on Wednesday; and will enjoy fruit smoothies made of berries on Friday.

Joining their principal, the children sported a different color of the rainbow each day of the week to go along with the healthy eating theme.

“I think it’s great to ensure that their body is getting what they need, and also, their mind,” Fasciana said. “It’s a powerful message.”

To learn more about the Eating The Rainbow program visit www.EatingTheRainbow.org.

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