Oxbow Creek Elementary School students smiled up in awe as a local volleyball star served them salad at lunch time. They eagerly waited their turns as 15-year-old Izzy Ashburn handed out sample cups of romaine lettuce, diced apples, chicken and quinoa.

Sporting their “got veggies?” shirts, Champlin Park High School students seemed to have no trouble getting elementary students to eat their vegetables.

“These are like rock stars to them,” said Noah Atlas, the district’s child nutrition program director.

So when the Anoka-Hennepin district launched its campaign to get more elementary kids to choose healthful foods, the grown-ups got out of the way.

As students filed into the lunch line Tuesday, the same high school students giving out the sample cups were pictured in posters on the cafeteria walls. In one poster, Champlin Park football player Bennett Otto grips a rutabaga like a football. The caption says, “When it comes to eating veggies, I never punt.”

Otto held the sample tray and wove in and out of the cafeteria tables passing salad samples to students.

The “got veggies?” campaign echoes the national “got milk?” ad campaign, which features celebrities sporting milk mustaches. Anoka-Hennepin wellness and nutrition specialists cast Champlin Park student leaders as their celebrities.

Drama students, volleyball and football players and art students all took part.

The campaign makes for a creative response to a government mandate. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 made it mandatory for schools to offer students vegetables and fruits with their meals. The district used funding from the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) to kick-start the campaign.

‘Get the excitement out’

The district held a focus group of 30 students to decide on the campaign slogan and pictures, said Jen Gilbert, district wellness specialist and SHIP coordinator. “We needed a way to get the excitement out,” she said. “We are trying to expand their palates at a young age.”

On Tuesday, the elementary school students ate grapes and greens along with their harvest salad sampler.

Anoka-Hennepin students are accustomed to the district offering up samples to students to get them to try something new. The district has already had six taste tests at the school this year.

“One thing we always try to do is increase vegetable variety and consumption,” Atlas said. “It is as much as they care to eat.”

The district plans on rolling out the program to other schools as well.

The campaign posters are up now at Dayton Elementary School, Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School and Monroe Elementary School.

“It’s a great way to give back to a school that means so much to me,” Erin Magner, 18-year-old Champlin Park High School senior said.

The samples were a hit on Tuesday, and some students went back for seconds, or more. Nine-year-old Rhett Simonson stacked up five cups that once held harvest salad samples. He scarfed them down before going through his packed lunch Tuesday.

“It’s a nice mixture of everything,” he said.