Nebraska Extension aims to create healthy environments for children

Nebraska Extension aims to create healthy environments for children

Nebraska Extension Educator Kayla Colgrove shares smoothie samples with Tri County Public Schools students during a recent farmers market at the school.
Nebraska Extension Educator Kayla Colgrove shares smoothie samples with Tri County Public Schools students during a recent farmers market at the school.

Nebraska Extension is combating childhood obesity across the state by implementing programs to improve healthy eating and physical activity patterns in youth.

Extension professionals focused on food, nutrition and health from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, 4-H and The Learning Child are teaming up to create healthier home, school and community environments to make healthy choices more desirable.

"There is a critical need to reduce childhood overweight and obesity rates by encouraging healthy habits," said Kayla Colgrove, extension educator. "Extension programming not only improves eating patterns and increases physical activity in youth, but it also helps create those environments that support healthier living."

Through statewide programming and dynamic partnerships, extension team members reached over 63,000 Nebraskans with programs focused on healthy habits in 2016. The programs are designed to teach children and youth how to choose healthy food and beverages, how to prepare food safely, fun ways to be active, alternatives to screen time and more.

Nebraska Extension is also focused on helping to create a healthy environment in Nebraska schools. Recently, a collaboration between extension, Tri County Public Schools, the Nebraska Department of Education's Team Nutrition and several local businesses culminated in a farmers market at the school. During the lunch hour, nearly 400 students were able to sample a variety of locally grown food, including vegetables from the school's new hydroponic garden system.

"Tri County is very innovative with their approach to school wellness, and the farmers market is an example of that," Colgrove said.

During the market, Colgrove shared smoothie samples with the students that featured spinach as a main ingredient. Other samples included hummus, whole grain bread, local meats from Frank's Smokehouse, cheese sticks from Classic Dairy and ice cream from Prairieland Dairy.

The farmers market was a way to show students the different types of vegetables they could grow in their own gardens. The school district's goal is to grow vegetables that could be introduced into their lunch program. Their hydroponic garden is soil-less, feeding plants in water. The district is currently growing heads of lettuce.

"We are trying to get students on board with the idea of farm to school, so we gave them a micro-view of what our garden will be like," said Jane Niemeier, Tri County wellness coordinator. "The closer that our students can get to the growing and preparation process for the produce, their environment will become healthier."

Nebraska Extension is also helping schools implement smarter lunchroom strategies. The effort is the result of a partnership between Extension, 4-H, SNAP-Ed, Team Nutrition and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The strategies provide low- to no-cost solutions to reduce food waste and increase the consumption of healthy foods. Extension staff provide technical assistance to schools by helping the food service staff identify and diagnose school lunchroom challenges and develop strategies to promote healthy choices.

Additionally, school enrichment kits are available for elementary school teachers to assist in teaching nutrition and physical activity. The kits are designed to meet national health and state science standards. The kits include education on MyPlate food groups, basic nutrients, label reading and planning a balanced meal.

According to extension educator Kristen Houska, Nebraska Extension, Team Nutrition, the Nebraska Department of Education and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services are trying to impact a variety of different policy, system and environmental approaches within Nebraska schools.

"All of the approaches are designed to work in conjunction with each other, which makes a big impact when trying to create healthy environments across the school system," Houska said.

To learn more about Nebraska Extension's efforts, watch a video here.