This evidence-based campaign focuses on building fruit and vegetable consumption in children through healthy snacking. Pick a bettersnack™ is a monthly, in-school nutrition education program for primary grade children in at-risk elementary schools in Clark and Washoe counties in Nevada. In addition to direct instruction, staff works with school wellness coordinators to build meaningful and sustainable programming to create a well environment in every school.

Childhood and adolescence are the critical periods for development of good health practices. Many health behaviors established in childhood persist into adulthood. Because many chronic diseases are attributable to poor diet, physical inactivity and over/underweight, it is essential to start good health practices as early as possible. Proper nutrition is essential to a child’s physical, mental and cognitive development. 

Although strong programs to build healthful eating and physical activity practices reduce the burden of chronic disease, there are very few programs teaching nutrition practices to children. Pick a better snack™ fills this gap, teaching second and third grade students the basic skills needed to make these healthful choices. 

Individuals (including children) from lower socio-economic status are more likely to be obese or overweight than those of higher socio-economic status. As a group, Mexican American boys tend to have a higher incidence of overweight than non-Hispanic white or non-Hispanic black boys; and non-Hispanic black girls tend to have a higher prevalence of overweight than Mexican American or non-Hispanic white girls. Nevada consistently ranks among those states with the poorest self-reported eating and activity practices. 

Every month, Cooperative Extension educators teach children about choosing foods that provide the greatest benefit to their bodies and the importance of physical activity. The curriculum reflects the essential experiences necessary for second and third graders as outlined in the standards of the Nevada Department of Education. The campaign includes in-class lessons on individual fruits and vegetables and includes a brief physical activity component in each lesson as well. Pick a better snack™ promotes health practices engendering lifelong, healthy lifestyles in children. These practices can lower risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases. In addition to direct education, wellness efforts are implemented throughout the school year with Smarter Lunchroom assessments, signage promoting healthy foods and physical activity; wellness events such as field day activities, Jump Rope for Heart, cooperation with school gardens; yoga classes, etc. Monthly Bingo cards and topical newsletters, written in both English and Spanish, are given to families to expand instruction into the home. 

Chefs for Kids volunteers donate more than 3,000 hours yearly to prepare breakfasts for the children and raise funds to support the program. The Pick a better snack™/Chefs for Kids Program has reached more than 62,390 students since its inception 27 years ago. The program is offered in 14 schools in Clark County and three schools in Washoe County. 

Impact

  • 39% of students reported increasing their fruit consumption
  • 46% of students reported increasing vegetable consumption
  • 76% of parents stated that their children were more willing to try new fruits and vegetables than they were previously
  • Fliers persuaded parents to purchase more fruits and vegetables than they normally did
  • Parent comments on the nutrition education program were quite positive. 
    • “My son came home and asked me to buy eggplant! Great program for the kids. Thank you!” 
    • “It was so good to try new things.” 
    • “You teach her and she works hard on me and she works hard on me and my calories.”
    • “This really helped my picky eater try new foods. Thank you!”
    • “My son loves the nutrition class! We work on being more aware of nutrition facts and how many fruits and vegetables we eat. Thank you.”