SACRAMENTO, Calif.-A first- and second-grade nutrition education program that reinforces language arts and math while teaching health in an innovative way, has received exceptionally positive marks in a formative evaluation by WestEd, a nonprofit research agency with a specialty in education program evaluation. The program, Healthy Choices, Healthy Me!, developed by the Dairy Council of California, the program is in its second full year in distribution.

"We are pleased to see that our programs have such a positive effect on students' eating patterns," says Peggy Biltz, CEO, Dairy Council of California. "We are especially pleased with the impact the program has on children's understanding of the importance of including milk and dairy products in their diet."

The evaluation shows, for example, that consumption of milk among second- grade students during breakfast increased nearly 10% up to two months after students completed the program's curriculum. Consumption of yogurt products increased 6% and cheese consumption increased nearly 4% two months later, suggesting retained behavior change. In addition, knowledge about the function of foods in the body improved significantly among second-grade students with 71% understanding that milk builds strong bones and 60% two months after completing the curriculum compared with only 36% answering the question correctly beforehand.

To determine the program's overall effectiveness, a formative evaluation was conducted during the 2003-2004 school year by WestEd with approximately 400 California first- and second-grade students from 30 classrooms participating. The first-grade results were very promising with the percentage of first grade students classifying foods into the correct groups improving between pre- and post-test. In addition, among the first-grader students who reported eating breakfast the day of the survey, the consumption of each of the five food groups increased.

Results from the second-grade evaluations showed that after completing the Healthy Choices, Healthy Me! program, students greatly improved their knowledge of classifying foods into food groups and retained this knowledge up to two months later. Students also could better identify a balanced meal and improved their self-reported eating habits by eating more selections from the food groups.

Teachers participating in the evaluation applauded Healthy Choices, Healthy Me! for its dedication to teaching variety within the food groups and providing supporting teacher materials. Teachers also found that the program was easy and fun to teach because their students were enthused about the lessons. The majority of teachers were highly satisfied with the program components and outcomes, and plan to use it again.

Both first- and second-grade programs are available in English and Spanish and include student workbooks, a teacher's guide, a food guide pyramid poster, multicultural food pictures and The Market Mystery storybook for the second graders. The program also extends the healthy eating lessons beyond school by providing a parent letter that is sent home with each of the students. The program aligns with California and National Education Standards and meets core curriculum requirements for math, science, writing and health. Students gain knowledge about healthy eating using critical thinking, problem-solving and character- building skills.

Healthy Choices, Healthy Me! is provided free to first- and second-grade teachers in California and available at a low cost to teachers outside of California. For ordering information log on to or call 888/868-3083. n

Dairy Council of California develops nutrition education programs that are easy-to-use and meet the unique needs of students at different grade levels. Making healthy food choices from all food groups and including physical activity are the foundation for life-long health and wellness.