Global food systems

School programs changing the way children view food choices


Two programs in Missouri schools are trying to change the way young people think about food and healthy food choices.

Fifth graders at Black Hawk Elementary School in Clark County learned how food gets from the farm to the table. University of Missouri Extension 4-H youth program assistant Katie Hogan, MU Extension nutrition associate Wendy Ray and teacher Rhonda LaCount taught students about how food gets from the farm to the table. The class connected students to a bygone era when families raised and produced their own food.

“Unfortunately we have a lot of kids, even in a rural area, who are removed from agriculture,” Hogan said. She added that many children today have little understanding of where their food comes from. “They may not have had the same experiences as their parents or grandparents.”


“It’s great that we can bring the different aspects of extension together — science, agriculture, food and nutrition, and 4-H — in this project.”
– Katie Hogan


Hogan said she thinks it’s important to pass those experiences and traditions on through hands-on activities. She led them in a discussion of cows, milk and cream, and how butter is made. The hands-on activity involved a small amount of cream in condiment cups with lids at room temperature. Students shook the cream until it firmed, and then rinsed the buttermilk off the butter.

Wendy Ray visited classrooms throughout the year to talk about nutrition, show students how to read food labels and talk about how butter is healthier than margarine.

This is the third year of the program, which is held after end-of-the-year testing is done. “It’s great that we can bring the different aspects of extension together — science, agriculture, food and nutrition, and 4-H — in this project,” Hogan said.

Middle school students also get a lesson in changing how their peers view food and food choices. A statewide contest challenged middle school students to create a poster, short video or catchy slogan promoting exercise and healthy eating.

The Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition (MoCAN) and University of Missouri Extension sponsored the Youth Media Contest.

Donna Mehrle, an MU Extension nutrition and exercise physiology associate, said the contest was especially important because 31 percent of adolescent Missouri children are overweight or obese, according to the Missouri Foundation for Health.

“Through our work, we’ve seen that students really are motivated by other youth, and they have their own ideas about how to talk to their peers,” said Jon Stemmle, MoCAN chair and co-director of the MU Health Communication Research Center. “That’s why contests like these are so important. Not only do they get the students excited, but they give the students a real voice too. When they design their own messages they’ll likely resonate with other youth as well.”

Jen Hadler, a middle school health and physical education teacher in Kirkwood School District, used the contest to give her class hands-on experience.

“My students are so excited to turn what they’ve learned about physical activity and nutrition into videos for this contest,” Hadler said. “I’m just as excited about showing the videos off to their classmates. Who better to learn from than their peers?”


Seasonal and Simple is a free iPhone, iPad and Android app developed through University of Missouri Extension. The app guides you through selecting, preparing and storing fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Missouri.
The app includes recipes and nutrition information for each of the fruits and vegetables that are listed.
The application was created through a collaboration of MU faculty, staff and students from Human Environmental Sciences Extension, the Missouri School of Journalism and the College of Engineering.

Extension swine nutrition programs worked with a group of independent Missouri pork producers whose sales account for more than 70 percent of the independently produced pigs marketed in Missouri and who purchase complete feed or raw ingredients for on-farm feed manufacturing. Independent pork producers account for more than 25 percent of Missouri’s total pig production. These pork producers purchase more than $2 million worth of feed each year. By purchasing feed ingredients and other production inputs cooperatively, these independent swine producers save an estimated $100,000 annually on purchased feed.