Gilbert students eat up nutrition lessons

By Tim Follo

AUGUSTA — It’s not every day that students laugh and smile when the subject is table manners and sanitation, but it happened all day on May 17 at Gilbert Elementary School.

Article image: Students fold napkins during a dining etiquette lessons at Gilbert Elementary School.
Gilbert Elementary School fifth graders Sophie Pruett, left, and Tatum Cormier fold napkins during a dining etiquette session at the Augusta school's all-day Fresh Start nutrition program on May 17.

That’s when students assembled fruit kebabs, perfected place settings and handled freshly harvested potatoes as part of Fresh Start, a daylong event at the Augusta school focused on teaching students healthy eating habits and providing them with practical skills to use in the kitchen.

“Our excitement is about connecting what we do at school to home,” said Barbara Nichols, the Augusta school nutrition director. “By bringing the parents in and doing these hands-on activities with the kids, the idea is they’re going to bring it home.”

Gilbert students in grades four, five, and six rotated among five workshops throughout the day that touched on agriculture and food production, food safety, nutrition and meal design, dining etiquette, and recipe literacy. Event organizers enlisted several expert volunteers from local businesses and organizations to lead each session.

The day ended with a free dinner sponsored by the Augusta school nutrition program where 250 students and parents feasted on beef tips, chicken tenders and locally grown asparagus, parsnips and fiddleheads.

Each student also went home with a basil plant donated by Longfellow’s Greenhouses in Manchester.

Other sponsors included Kennebec Savings Bank, Evergreen Dental in Augusta, Savings Bank of Maine and the Hair Gallery and Barber Shop in Augusta.

“We are hoping that [kids] become more involved, meaning they go shopping with their families and suggest healthy options,” said MaineGeneral Medical Center chef Mike Flynn, who helped organize the event and lead the recipe literacy workshop.

Instructors kept their presentations fun and interactive, and students remained attentive.

It was all part of an attempt to employ a student-centered teaching philosophy, said Carla Noyes, who led the workshop on etiquette.

“Etiquette is meant to make you feel comfortable, not uncomfortable,” said Noyes, who owns White Flour Catering in Hallowell.

Students seemed not only excited to participate in the activities, but ready to take what they learned and use it.

“I’m going to think better on it, read labels more, and think about portion sizes,” said one student.

Tim Follo is a junior at Falmouth High School.

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