Who Is The Real Expert?
A seed was planted in my brain about a month ago, a seed that soon grew into a beautiful idea. It all started with the realization that nobody truly has all the answers out there. No matter how engaged we are in our education or how long we drag out the schooling process, we still cannot declare ourselves an expert on everything. But can we still be an expert in one thing?
Expert: (noun) a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.
Okay so I guess individually, we can be experts in somethings like sports but in the world of nutrition, this is were it gets a bit more complicated. Nutrition has several different branches of interest, some specialize in medical nutrition, others seek sports nutrition. Still, others study weight management, community nutrition, disease prevention, commercial nutrition, food service management, food allergies, eating disorders etc. There is a route for every Registered Dietitian out there, something for everyone. You can see why being an expert in every field of nutrition is nearly impossible.
So this began my journey in search for the real experts in each field of nutrition.
The Importance of Community Nutrition
Meet Melissa Dukquits, she is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from College Station, TX who works at the Brazos Valley Food Bank as their ‘Nutrition Education Coordinator’. That’s a big mouthful, an even longer title but this doesn’t even compare to the size of her heart. Everything is bigger in Texas and this woman’s patience is one true example.
She and I have had the privilege of getting to know one another this past year when I started volunteering for the food bank. I assisted Melissa on numerous occasions, visiting elementary schools once a month to educate the children about the importance of eating right. Yes, that’s right, we not only try to shove vegetables down adults throats but we also try to make fruits and vegetables fun for kindergarteners.
She teaches a lesson plan geared towards the body’s organs (heart, liver, lungs, pancreas, etc) that helps explain what specific foods are good for each organ and why. Visiting the schools in the beginning, the kids did not know much about nutrition. They thought soda was flavored water, french fries were vegetables from the ground, and jelly donuts were tasty fruit. It’s been an amazing process, watching the kids grasp what good nutrition is and actually wanting to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their meals.
The reality is, these monthly visits may be the only nutrition education these children ever get. Some areas were food is scarce, and poverty is high the danger of food insecurity is very real. When the children go home at night, the level of nutrition education their parents have might be limited. Do their parents even have a computer to research what foods may be lacking in their diet? Maybe the parents don’t even have the money to buy fresh vegetables this month.
This is why nutrition education is so important, we start educating young so they can start eating good young.
I only asked a few questions on the topic but they were good enough to share with all of you. Here is a look into what her job looks like, who benefits and why it’s so darn important
- ME: What do you think is the least discussed or most overlooked topic of nutrition in public school is?
- MD: first, I think of healthy beverage choices. I think a lot of kids just revert to sodas, Hi-C, and other sugary beverages. There has been motivation towards healthier drinks such as taking out vending machines in public schools. However, most kids will simply just bring them from home. Secondly, I think the issue of hunger. This is a touchy subject in some public schools because there are a lot of kids who do not get to eat breakfast, lunch or even dinner except for what is given to them at school. People are not aware of what hunger looks like, body composition does not always correlate with food security. The face of hunger does not look like what you might think it does. The real problem is America has a rising number of malnourished kids.
2. ME: Why do you think nutrition education starting at a young age is so important?
- MD: I think it’s important no matter what age to take advantage of your health and taking care of your body. You cannot do that if you don’t know how your body works or how food affects your body. As children, we do what our parents do and we won’t change unless there is an intervention.
- ME: Is there an age that might be too early to intervene?
- MD: I think as young as preschool. Talking about fruits and vegetables, teaching them about colors and making it fun. After all, nutrition is supposed to be enjoyable, only recently it’s got a bad rep that makes it seem harder to commit than it really is. Early education is key and it sets the pace for the future to come.
3. ME: You’ve been in the ‘Food Educator’ role for a while now, what is the most surprising thing you have heard or experienced while teaching young children about nutrition?
- MD: I mainly hear the unusual comments in the beginning, when I teach the first lesson with a group of kids. I ask what different types of fruits and vegetables they eat. I have gotten the answer, “Pop-Tarts, apple pie, Kool-Aid” anything with flavored fruit filling.
4. ME: During the last couple of months of implementing nutrition into elementary school classrooms, have you noticed the retention rate increase?
- MD: They have been learning about their organs, even the kindergarteners can tell me something they learned about each organ. It is quite impressive. When I see the kids in the hallways or in public they tell me they tried a certain kind of fruit or vegetable, which is encouraging to me because I know I make an impact. Even if it is small.
- ME: Do any specific topics stick more than others?
- MD: I think repetition is key, since we only see them once a month it is important to reinforce what we learned last time, even if it does take up half the class time. Some of the easier organs stick better, for example the kidneys love water, the brain loves breakfast, all of the organs love fruits and vegetables, the bones love calcium. I think if they can remember anything, it’s that healthy food impacts every organ of the body. That’s a win in my book!
5. ME: Take me through a typical nutrition lesson you would give to elementary school aged kids.
- MD: My favorite curriculum is the “Organ Wise Guys,” because it teaches the kids about 10 of the most important organs in the body and how they can keep their body healthy by eating right. It teaches the science of the body and why we need proper nutrition, which tells them WHY to eat healthy instead of just telling them what to do. We also introduce 5 of the food groups, we typically spotlight one organ and one food group and how eating the food group can take care of that organ. Then we play a fun game to reinforce the concept.
- ME: Do you think even some adults in college would benefit from these simple nutrition lessons?
- MD: Absolutely! I even learned something new while teaching these classes. I think that most college students and adults think you eat healthy to look good but they don’t understand that we need to eat healthy to feel good on the inside too. I think a more matured curriculum geared towards adults including anatomy, physiology and even biochemistry would be beneficial. There is a huge connection between nutrition and the body.
Insight from Melissa:“It is vital for proper child nutrition education and for the parents to be on board as well because kids develop so many ideas and tastes from their parents. If the parents knew this, that what they eat or drink ultimately sets their child up for either health or illness, this could help them in the long run.”
She is changing lives with nutrition,
one small step at a time.
Thanks Melissa, here’s to you!
Want to hear more? Here is a video on YouTube that explains Hunger & Health and what it looks like.
This is an original interview conducted by Stephanie Rackley for ‘The Healthy Chew’ -All rights reserved
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