In Michelle Selb-Sack’s household, nobody knew what jicama was until her kids were challenged at school to taste it.
“They found out they just love it,” she said.
Now the White Bear Lake family is cooking with the crunchy white legume — and other fruits and vegetables. Selb-Sack has made a game out of using obscure ingredients and seeing if the kids can guess them.
“What is that one that tastes like licorice? Fennel!” she said. “That was one that I threw in there that they didn’t know.”
Video games and sugary snacks are down at the Selb-Sack household, and fun-runs and healthy meals are up, and the family credits a White Bear Lake schools initiative called Bear Power for the change.
The program’s success goes beyond one anecdote. Bloomington-based HealthPartners encouraged the effort at schools in White Bear, Stillwater and other east metro locations through its School Challenge program, launched in 2012. Then the health care organization measured the schools’ progress on 36 practices known to boost student health, such as eliminating sugary beverages from school-sanctioned events. Stillwater’s score increased 20 percent from 2015 to 2017.
A survey of families found that 73 percent credited the program for inspiring their kids to try healthier foods.
“Parents say they want this,” said Marna Canterbury, director of community health for HealthPartners’ Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater. “They want to know their children go to school and aren’t offered candy during the day … that they can go to the school carnival and it won’t be a complete deviation to the way their family eats at home.”
Healthy foods can be costly, but Canterbury said the schools often use lower-cost produce options that families can afford.
Other steps, such as banning cupcakes as birthday treats at school, reduce costs. In White Bear Lake elementary schools, students receive special orange birthday lunch trays instead, and are serenaded with “Happy Birthday’’ as they go to the front of the food line.
Selb-Sack said the net result of more exercise and healthier foods has been a happier home. Family activities used to be rare, Selb-Sack said. “Now it's like, when’s the next run?”