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Released: April 20, 2007

Use Food, Science to Teach Kids Nutrition, Health

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – An engaging children’s game – U-B the Judge – is introducing children to health-promoting fruits and vegetables.

The game is easy and fun – children are invited to judge differences in flavor, texture and food quality in fresh, frozen and canned samples of fruits and vegetables, said Carol Fink, a Kansas State University Research and Extension 4-H youth development specialist.

Learn-By-Doing, a 4-H Staple, Builds Life Skills

KANSAS CITY, MO. – Educators call it “experiential learning,” while others may simply say “learn-by-doing.” Either way, seeing, hearing, discussing and practicing a new concept, idea or skill is most likely to be remembered, said Gary Gerhard, Kansas State University professor and 4-H youth development specialist.

Learning is a gradual process, said Gerhard, who shared a Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension chart on Experience-Based Learning, considering that we remember:

20 percent of what we read;

20 percent of what we hear;

30 percent of what we see;

50 percent of what we see and hear;

70 percent of what we see, hear, and discuss; and

90 percent of what we see, hear, discuss, and practice.

“The process of discovery builds self esteem and life skills, which are integral to educational 4-H projects and programs that challenge students to learn,” Gerhard said.

More information on educational 4-H programs is available at county and district Extension offices and, in Kansas, on the Kansas 4-H Web site:

Adding a cost comparison between the samples adds a math component to the exercise, said Fink, who spends many of her working hours as a nutrition educator for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Family Nutrition Program.

Fink teamed with Gary Gerhard, K-State professor of 4-H youth development, and Evelyn Neier, an associate 4-H youth development specialist and coordinator of the Kansas Junior Master Gardener program, at the 2007 Priester National Extension Health Conference in Kansas City recently to offer tips for teaching children about nutrition and health.

“Encouraging children to judge health-promoting fruits and vegetables engages them in the decision-making process and helps to build decision-making skills,” Gerhard said.

“Focusing on facts while making the exercise fun can set the stage for behavior changes,” said Gerhard, who cited a University of Minnesota study that used focus groups with elementary school-age children to gauge understanding of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines via My Pyramid for Kids.

Kindergarten through second graders participating in the study could not, for example, define the word “variety.” This age group also had some trouble identifying foods from the different food groups and foods that were either high – or low – in fat or sugar.

By the time students reached grades 3-4, most could define the word “variety.” Most in this age group had a general understanding of good foods/bad foods, but couldn’t always pinpoint specific attributes of certain foods. This age group also lacked understanding of portion size.

Students in grades 5-6 could define variety, yet not always implement it correctly.

Students in this age group believed that good food was typically low in fat and sugar and so-called bad foods high in both. Most also understood the concept of a healthy weight – neither too thin or too fat – and that it was okay to eat less healthy foods occasionally.

For her part in the program, Neier emphasized educational nutrition and health benefits from the garden.

“Kids are more likely to eat what they help produce,” she said.

While interest in school and community gardens is growing, Neier said that container gardening on a porch or patio is typically inexpensive, yet also educational and likely to yield a good crop.

Children usually like grape or cherry tomatoes that are easy to grow and easy for small hands to harvest, she said.

More information on the Junior Master Gardener program, including “Health and Nutrition Lessons from the Garden” is available at  and on the Kansas 4-H Web site:


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Nancy Peterson
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Carol Fink is at 785-532-5800 or
Gary Gerhard is at 785-532-5800 or
Evelyn Neier 316-722-0932 or