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‘Meals With Manners’ helps students stay healthy

Kettering students taught skills for life.Program focuses on cooking and behavior.

On Wednesday a group of fifth graders at Kettering’s John F. Kennedy Elementary learned some important lessons not usually taught in the classroom. A new after-school program, Meals With Manners, combined lessons in cooking, nutrition, etiquette and making healthy choices.

School nurse Kay Stukenborg created the program in part as a continuation of the Get Up Montgomery challenge, in which the entire school participated. “All the kids did a checklist for four weeks,” said Stukenborg. “I wanted to reinforce healthy eating (after the challenge was finished) and thought it was a great time to reinforce table manners, too.”

Cookbook funded program

To fund Meals With Manners, Stukenborg partnered with Mary Cooney, a Dorothy Lane Market cooking instructor and teacher’s aide at J.E. Prass Elementary in Kettering. “I started an after-school cooking club at Prass,” Cooney said. “And decided to do a club at JFK as well.” Cooney provided recipes for a cookbook, “Budget Friendly Foods That Kids Can Make.” Stukenborg and Cooney self-published the cookbook and were able to use the proceeds to start the manners program.

The session started with a discussion on the hows and whys of basic table manners. In addition, group leaders incorporated lessons on avoiding germs by washing hands, keeping elbows off the table and leaving fingers out of food.

Children prepared their own simple appetizers and desserts and followed along as Cooney explained the main course prep step-by-step. “I try to present healthier options,” Cooney said. “Cooking is something every kid needs, those basic skills for college and adult life. These are all fifth-graders, which is the perfect age. They’re able to really cook.”

The children also learned to set a table and wait for everyone to be served. Rather than creating a stuffy atmosphere or issuing a long list of rules, the program focused on everyday manners and encouraged kids to participate and learn how to talk politely to each other.

Healthy eating played a big role

“We try to promote healthy eating as much as we can,” said school lunch program supervisor Louise Easterly. “We don’t want healthy choices to stop at cafeteria food.”

Explaining the reasoning behind etiquette and polite behavior went a long way toward encouraging the students to mind their manners. Teaching kids to savor a meal and appreciate where their food comes from is an important point, too. “The more we expose them to different foods, the more they will accept them,” said Cooney, who instructed the students to slow down and taste all the flavors their food had to offer.

Supportive parents and students

“I got 100 percent support from the parents and the students,” said Stukenborg. The feedback from all the parents, students and volunteers was overwhelmingly positive.

“This will follow them into adulthood,” said Julie Kettler, whose son Brandon participated in the session. “My son was very excited. He likes to cook and wanted to learn more.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Marshie Crawford, who had two children enrolled in the program. “I almost think it should be mandatory. Parents need to speak up and teach manners.” Her sons, Jacob and Jeremiah Payton, enjoyed “learning about all the different flavors.”

To take their newfound knowledge home with them, each child received a double-sided placemat complete with a table-setting diagram, a guide to eating right and a recap of key table manners.

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