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Role Models for Health

From recipe books and calendars to in-class presentations, elementary students in Coeur d’Alene are learning more about nutrition and physical fitness thanks to a partnership between University of Idaho Extension’s Eat Smart Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department and the Coeur d’Alene School District’s Nutrition Services.

When UI Extension educator Shelly Johnson learned that the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department was interested in educating youth about health and wellness, she saw a great opportunity to collaborate. Discussions between Johnson, the fire department and Ed Ducar, director of nutrition services for the Coeur d’Alene School District, led to the implementation of a program using firefighters as role models to promote healthy living to elementary students.

Initially launched in 2015, the partnership has resulted in a recipe book, calendar, trading cards and several presentations at Coeur d’Alene elementary schools.

From Classroom...

Twelve firefighters participated in the program and each one provided a healthy snack recipe. Each recipe features the firefighter’s photo, along with information on how they stay physically active. The calendar and trading cards follow a similar model. Each student at the 10 elementary schools in the Coeur d’Alene School District received a copy of the recipe book and calendar, and trading cards were passed out during cafeteria visits. Teachers also received a copy of the calendar for their classrooms.

“We really wanted to initiate the process with kids that would sort of be mesmerized by firefighters coming into their schools,” Johnson said. “With the elementary ages they are definitely in that pocket of kids that are wowed by them.”

Johnson and ESI staff tested each of the 12 recipes with students during afterschool and summer programs. Students were asked to rate each recipe and provide ideas for improvement. Johnson and Ducar developed a narrative for each recipe on what made it healthy and also provided tips for parents on how to make the snack even more nutritious.

“By the time the book and calendar had been put together it had been well tested,” Johnson said. “It was a fun process and the firefighters were really excited to be a part of it.”

After the book and calendar were published, Johnson and ESI staff visited every single classroom in the Coeur d’Alene School District with at least one firefighter to talk about the recipes, what it means to be physically active and why it’s important to eat healthy foods. During the school year they were able to reach over 5,400 elementary students.

... To Cafeteria

Johnson and Ducar are also using the firefighters in the Smarter Lunchroom Movement. Developed by Cornell University, the movement is dedicated to providing resources to schools to build a lunchroom environment that makes healthy food choices the easy choice. Strategies are free or low-cost solutions that nudge students to voluntarily select the healthiest food in the lunchroom.

“We’re trying to start them at a young age so as they move on to middle and high school they can continue to make healthy choices,” Ducar said. “We have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that we serve every day and we want to introduce students to new foods that they maybe haven’t seen or tried before.”

“The firefighters wouldn’t tell kids to eat something but instead ask them how the food tastes,” Johnson said “So many kids were able to try something and realize they liked it. They were being offered all this great stuff but had never tried it.”

ESI assisted with several different promotions related to the Smarter Lunchroom Movement, including a push for children to choose white milk instead of chocolate milk. Johnson took photos of the 12 firefighters with white milk mustaches and turned the photos into large posters to hang on cafeteria walls and milk refrigeration units. Firefighters then attended lunch and stood by the white milk to promote it.

“It was cute because about 98 percent of the kids would choose white milk,” Johnson said. “We were just trying to get through the point that while chocolate milk has calcium and vitamin D, it still has those added sugars.”

And Beyond

ESI was able to secure funding to produce another recipe book for the upcoming school year, this time focused on dinner recipes.

“We want to promote families eating together more often,” Johnson said. “There is so much research that families are more connected when they eat together and that the nutrition quality is much higher.”

Johnson is in the process of collecting recipes from the firefighters and testing them in hopes to publish the new recipe book in September. An additional elementary school will be added to the rotation and Johnson is also hoping to include firefighters from the Northern Lakes Fire Department.

“The kids love seeing the firefighters — they definitely see them as role models.” Johnson said. “There is a lot of conversation about what the kids do to stay active and what the firefighters enjoy for physical activities. It’s a great way to connect with the kids.”

Story by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Eat Smart Idaho

Learn nutrition and consumer skills

Helping families in Idaho move toward increased self-sufficiency.

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For more information contact

Shelly Johnson

Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences

University of Idaho Extension

Physical Address:
E. J. Iddings Agricultural Science Laboratory, Room 52
606 S Rayburn St.
Moscow, ID

Mailing Address:
University of Idaho Extension
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2338
Moscow, ID 83844-2338

Phone: 208-885-5883

Fax: 208-885-6654


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Barbara Petty