Nutrition club teaches Belmont Elementary students to be healthy

Over a year ago, a fourth-grade girl at Belmont Elementary wrote Rachel Maloy a thank you note. The note is still taped to Maloy’s desk.

“Dear Mission Nutrition,” the note said. “Your club is so fun. I love you guys, keep being healthy.”

While the note is simple, Maloy said it gives her validation and a reason to keep doing what she is doing. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln student coordinates the Belmont Elementary Community Learning Center’s nutrition club, which she named Mission Nutrition. For the past three years, she has been leading the weekly after-school club with a devotion to teaching children to lead healthy lives and make healthy choices.

“Nutrition affects our bodies more than we realize,” said Maloy, a senior dietetics and nutrition major.  “The food we eat literally builds our cells. And for little kids who are growing so fast, good nutrition is necessary.”

This story is part of a series about the people and issues in Lincoln’s six most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods.

Nebraska has the 23rd highest obesity rate in the nation for youth ages 10 to 17 and the 15th highest adult obesity rate, according to the State of Obesity website, which also noted that the state’s overall childhood obesity rate decreased by 8.2 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Mission Nutrition takes an approachable, grassroots method for combatting childhood obesity. Maloy educates children about healthy eating through activities that engage them and get them on their feet. The goal is to guide kids toward healthy habits and teach them the basics of nutrition in a fun environment, she said.

In its fifth year at Belmont Elementary, the Mission Nutrition club meets on Fridays after class and always starts with a taste test of a nutritious snack that the students may not be commonly exposed to. Recent taste tests have included kiwi, rainbow carrots and papaya.

“The kids don’t necessarily have to love the snacks we provide for them,” Maloy said.  “We just want to broaden their horizons and help them try new foods without being scared.  “Next week’s snack is hummus and veggies, which always gets mixed reviews.”

After snack time, the children head to the gym and participate in an active, team-oriented game that lets them get some exercise while learning about food groups. A common game is a food group relay race in which kids have to work together to put plastic foods into their proper food groups as fast as they can.

The game is then followed by a brief lesson and discussion in which the children can ask questions and learn to apply Maloy’s lessons to their own lives. During the very last week of the club, Maloy hosts a game of nutrition Jeopardy for the kids to let them show off what they have learned.

Mission Nutrition is available to kindergarten through second grade students in the first half of the semesters and available to third through fifth grade students in the second half. Currently, Maloy is working with the older students.

“With the older kids, you can get more in depth about how healthy eating really affects them,” she said. “They are at an age where they start to choose what they consume, so it’s important to show them good habits from the start.”

Mission Nutrition, an after-school club, is in its fifth year at Belmont Elementary School.

Lindsay Limbach, Lincoln’s Community Learning Center coordinator, remembers Mission Nutrition’s start in 2013 and has been a supporter of the club ever since.

UNL nutrition students have always been the lifeblood of the club, according to Limbach. Leadership of the organization has been passed from one student to the next, and it will be passed down with Maloy’s graduation in May.

“Rachel is such a great leader for the kids and a great team member for the adults,” Limbach said. “She knows that everything we do is for the kids. She saw the need for this kind of education and is making an impact.”

The impact of Mission Nutrition can be felt throughout all of the Belmont Elementary clubs. A wide variety of special interest clubs are held at Belmont every afternoon, but before the children arrive, volunteers are arranging baskets of healthy snacks for the kids to choose from.

Hannah Jacobs, a student teacher at Belmont, acknowledged the value of nutrition as she organized yogurts, bananas and mini containers of cereal for the afternoon’s clubs.

“We recently added hard boiled eggs to our snack rotation for protein,” Jacobs said. “After a whole day of school, kids need to take a break and enjoy a snack that gives their brains a kickstart of protein and carbs to get them ready for more learning.”

When Maloy graduates and moves on from Mission Nutrition, she said she wants the healthful habits and values of her club to stick with kids through their lives and guide them on to share their positive choices with their families and their community.

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