If you are browsing for cereal in a Thornhill grocery store, you may be stopped by a boy or girl from Mrs. Ciccarelli’s Grade 3 class.
Her 19 students at St. Michael Catholic Academy have been learning about healthy eating and are eager to share their knowledge.
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Cereals — and how to choose a nutritious one — are one of their areas of expertise.
Mrs. Ciccarelli’s students also know how to read ingredient lists and decode nutrition labels on food packaging.
They know produce that comes from faraway countries is not as good — for you or for the environment — as fruits and vegetables grown close to home.
And they know to be wary of suspicious nutrition claims and foods that are riddled with artificial colours and flavours.
A visitor to Mrs. Ciccarelli’s class will learn a lot from the students.
Healthy eating is part of the Grade 3 curriculum, which primarily focuses on Canada’s Food Guide. For Fran Ciccarelli, the standard information wasn’t enough.
“The students only needed to know the four food groups and some examples of foods that are healthy and what are not,” she says. “I take it one step further. Once we start looking at food labels, the kids ask more and more questions and it just snowballs from there.”
One of the students’ favourite class exercises is to investigate the ingredients of popular grocery store foods. They were recently shocked to find out a yogurt drink did not contain actual yogurt.
“When we looked at the ingredient list we found it has cream in it, but no yogurt,” Ciccarelli says. “That’s the kind of thing we do.
“One of my goals is to have the students question what they are buying, and what they are putting in their bodies.”
In all the lessons, Ciccarelli says the goal is to encourage healthy choices. She tells them there are foods that should be eaten every day and others that should be saved for a special treat.
“With the kids, we talk about things like if you are at an airport and need to eat a meal, you have to learn how to make the best choice out there. Sometimes the best isn’t great, but it’s the best you can do at that time and that’s okay.”
Ciccarelli says teaching 8- and 9-year-olds about healthy ingredients and the dangers of too many calories is as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.
She hopes her students take that knowledge with them, to the cereal aisle and beyond.
“It’s never too young to learn. Never.”