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Mary Johnson San Juan Capistrano, CA

My name is Mary Johnson and I grew up really liking sweets. As a child I was allowed to eat dessert before I ate dinner and if I wasn’t full after I had my dessert, I would eat the main course. At college I continued the road to eating unhealthy. I would start my day eating a bowl of sugar coated cereal, french toast piled high with brown sugar, a slab of butter, all topped off with what else, tons of syrup. At break instead of eating something nutritious I would find myself munching down a bag of mixed candy. Until one day I was rushed to the hospital because of high levels of sugar in my blood stream. From that that day forward I vowed to myself that I would eat better and tell others of my story. Today I am raising 4 beautiful teenage children and run an elementary school cafeteria. When I started working at the elementary school it was a good day, if the school of 650 students, went through a quarter case of fruit. I thought to myself, how can this be? I brained stormed ways to increase their awareness. First it was important to have a variety of fruit and vegetables, easy for the students to reach and make them look appealing to eat. The quantity of fruits and vegetables the students took began to increase, but it still wasn’t good enough for me, I wanted to see them take more. I then thought well I’ll just ask the student why they aren’t taking a fruit or vegetable with their lunch. I would say to them, "Have you ever tried one of our delicious apples…try one today and tell me how much you liked it, next time you see me." They always came back with a good report. However, I still wanted them to eat more. I then would go up and down the line and tell them how beneficial the fruit and vegetables were to their body. I would say things like, "Did you know that apples act like a tooth brush and clean your teeth and get all the trapped food from between your teeth? Did you know that carrots are good for your eyes? Did you know oranges keep you away from the doctor, because they are a good source of Vitamin C? Before I knew it the kids were going through 3 cases of fruit and vegetables. Today, I am still an advocate of eating healthy and I open my doors each lunch period and instruct the students what fruit and vegetables we have for the day and how it is important for me to share with them the importance of eating healthy.

Another project I started was "Let’s Eat Healthy". The program takes into consideration the Harvest of the Month and the importance of eating healthy. Each month I ask various grade levels to write a story and draw a picture about the Harvest of the Month. I use their work to color my walls. Best yet, while the students wait in line, they read what others have written. It allows students to see what other kids think about a certain fruit and vegetable and most importantly they gain awareness of the Harvest of the Month and the importance of eating healthy.

I also go into their classroom and present the students with the Power Play Program. The kids got a big kick of seeing the lunch lady teach them about nutrition. I feel so good for all that I do and hoping that the kids will keep on eating healthy and not fall into the trap of what I did.

I have also incorporated a "Let’s Exercise" program at our school as well. Not only do I feel that it is important to eat healthy, but to have proper exercise as well. I feel eating healthy and exercising go hand and hand. In my "Let’s Exercise" program students are encouraged to participate at recess. They participate in jump roping contests, relay races and a general exercise program with parachutes and other exercise equipment. The upper grades take it a step forward and we have sport tournaments. In order to participate each student must have good attendance, completed their class work and good behavior in the classroom. At the end of the tournament the winning class receives trophies. The trophies are recycled from people in our community that donate their unwanted trophies.

I run a local high school snack bar and am changing the way our district runs its snack bar drawing awareness to healthy eating. It is mandatory that at each snack bar fruit, vegetables and protein bars are available for purchase.

Not only do I take care of the students as the school, but I have 4 children of my own. I wanted to make a difference in their lives from a lesson I learned when I was young. I always make sure I have cleaned and cut up fruit and vegetables ready to go in my refrigerator, for my own children. Each day I prepare small bags of cut up fruit and vegetables and place them on the shelf of the refrigerator. This way they are ready for them to take not matter where they are going, whether it is to a basketball practice, friend’s house or doing their homework. I found that if you have the fruit and vegetable easy to grab and ready to eat, your children are more apt to want to eat it. I also learned it is all about presentation, if it looks good the kids are more apt to want to eat it. The only reason why they grab the "sugar" is because they don’t want to take the time to prepare something nutritious. If you have it ready for them, they will always grab the healthier item and not something that will give them temporary energy.

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