Stephanie Marino is an Extension Educator at Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) whose job is to plan, coordinate and implement MSUE’s School Nutrition Education and School Wellness Initiatives in Allegan, Ottawa, and Kent counties.
OWG: Why did you decide to start using the OWG programming in Michigan?
Stephanie: The OWG program is a perfect fit with the school programming we have been doing for over 10 years. The relationships we already had established with local schools allowed the OWG program to be easily incorporated into our overall school wellness initiatives.
OWG: What is your favorite part of using the OWG programming?
Stephanie: I love how engaged students are with the characters and that they are able to identify them right away. We have been teaching students about nutrition for years, and this program adds another level that students can relate to which will eventually impact their choices.
OWG: You recently started using the Foods of the Month program. How has that been received?
Stephanie: Schools have embraced FoM at both the district level and at the building level. It gives the lunch program recognition and acknowledges what an important place the cafeteria is for students. The school cooks are happy to be included in the OWG schoolwide initiative.
OWG: How are you helping the program increase in momentum?
Stephanie: The MSUE office is supporting 6 of our schools’ FoM programs by piloting a lunchroom mentoring project. Six MSUE staff are each assigned to a school and every Wednesday go into the lunchroom with nutrition and OWG messages to help promote FoM. We created large cardboard cut-outs of each OWG to accompany staff and be the “spokesorgan.” The students are eager each week to find out what the special menu item is. These MSUE staff are also eating a school lunch with students, using positive words and role modeling healthy eating behaviors. At the beginning of each month, teachers in these buildings receive an email containing the FoM newsletter and activity pages to use in their classroom and to send home to parents, all in an effort to reinforce the education happening in the lunchroom.
OWG: How are you seeing the program impact kids?
Stephanie: As one of the lunchroom mentors myself, I have experienced firsthand changes with many of the students. More students are willing to try the newer menu items (black bean salad, sugar snap peas, sweet potatoes). Many are even asking for seconds! Students are understanding the importance of eating a variety of foods and how different foods help our bodies in different ways.
OWG: What are some healthy foods that you like now but wouldn’t eat growing up?
Stephanie: I despised both onions and tomatoes as a child. Now I add them wherever I can!