by Joy Choquette for RiseVT

One wouldn’t expect words like, “yum,” or “delicious,” or “really good,” to come from fifth-graders when talking about fruits and vegetables. That was exactly the case though, for Kate Merola’s fifth-grade class at Grande Isle Elementary School.
The “Snackdown” project, which lasted from October 18 to November 29, 2018, utilized a multi-disciplinary approach, explained Moretti, RiseVT FGI Wellness Specialist. Math, nutrition, persuasive writing, food preparation skills, public speaking and data presentation were all part of this project, as was learning video editing skills.
The idea behind the Snackdown was simple: using the USDA Smart Snack standards, students would come up with healthy snack ideas that could be prepared by kids their age with little or no parental guidance. To accomplish this, the snacks had to use no more than three ingredients, at least one ingredient needed to be a fruit or vegetable, “and you could only use a microwave, refrigerator or freezer,” said Skarlette, one of the fifth-graders.
The USDA Smart Snack criteria states that snacks must meet the following standards: be 200 calories or less, have 200 mg of sodium or less, be low in fat (less than 35 percent of calories from total fat) and have 35 percent or less by weight of sugar.
The fifth-grade class eagerly accepted the challenge. First, they split into five smaller groups of three or fewer students. Then, they began their research. Using the criteria above, students determined which ingredients fit the bill and which didn’t.
After they’d come up with recipes, it was time to put their research into action. Each group was assigned a fruit or vegetable. From there, they created a snack which was offered to other students during three different lunch periods. Data was collected. Did students like the snack? Why or why not? “You should try it,” Danny encouraged. “Even though it doesn’t look good it might taste good.”
Students also made snacks and gave out samples to families visiting the school during the Family Night at the book fair. Lastly, students filmed and edited Public Service Announcements regarding their snack and why it was a healthy option. Kasey, one of the fifth-graders, noted that the students learned a lot about video editing in the process, including using a green screen app.
The students were eager to weigh in on the Snackdown when interviewed recently at Grand Isle Elementary School.
“Ms. Merola wrote down the fruits and vegetables that we could use and then we did a vote,” said Jennifer about the start of the program. The final fruits and vegetables included were: strawberries, apples, celery, watermelon and bananas.
When students first heard about the Snackdown, they were excited but a little leery, too. Words like, “a little weird,” and “nervous,” and “puzzled,” were shared by the students. Are they glad now that they had the chance to try this project? The answer was a resounding, “yes!” While Ms. Merola, Ms. Brabazon, the school’s librarian and technology instructor, and Moretti came up with the initial idea, “it just sort of blossomed from there, which was really great,” Moretti noted.
“You had to put a lot of teamwork and effort into it,” said Abby about the project overall. “Since we were all working as a group, we all had to put effort into it and help one and other.” Abigail noted that it was “a little bit inspiring. Usually when kids find things they like they keep eating the same stuff. This was a way to try new foods.” And Emily said, “My brother really doesn’t like to eat a lot of things because he’s really picky. He tried celery and really liked it.”
Principal Lauren Thomas stated that she was very pleased with the project and the effort that both the students and teachers put in to make it a success. “I liked that it was very self-directed. We like to encourage very independent learning opportunities that have 21st century problem-solving skills embedded.”
Perhaps the Snackdown was summed up most effectively by student Emma-Rae: “People might not think that healthy food can taste good, but it does taste good.”

Recipes Created by Mrs. Merola’s Fifth-Graders for Snackdown:

Watermelon: Watermelon sorbet: fresh, frozen watermelon, honey, lemon juice
Apples: Apples, sun butter (or peanut butter), mini chocolate chips
Celery: Celery and cream cheese and/or celery and sun butter (or peanut butter)
Strawberry: Strawberries covered with melted chocolate and pretzels
Banana: Banana, vanilla Greek yogurt, and honey