Kids Bank It!… In Our Calcium Banking 101 Program

By Lisa Harkins, RD, Community Nutritionist Kent and Sussex Counties

Lisa here, Community Nutritionist for the Food Bank of Delaware for Kent and Sussex counties, hitting you all up with a new blog about one of our awesome kids’ nutrition programs that Beverly Jackey, our Community Nutritionist for New Castle County, and I facilitate at camps and classrooms across the state:  Calcium Banking 101.

Originally funded by the 3-A-Day of Dairy Nutrition Education Grant Program through the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, Calcium Banking 101 is a nutritional education initiative for adolescents. The purpose of the program is to teach children the importance of daily intake of calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese to build strong bones and teeth. We also explain to the kids that other foods such as spinach, broccoli, fortified soy milk and orange juice, tofu and salmon with bones also contain some calcium, as well as other nutrients that support healthy growth and weight maintenance.

Why is it so important for these kids to increase their intake of dairy as well as other calcium-containing foods?  Research shows that only 12% of high-schoolers consume the recommended three servings of dairy products each day, and this may indicate poor calcium as well as poor Vitamin D intake. Inadequate intakes of these important nutrients may lead to decreased bone accumulation, and could affect bone formation and growth. We start to lose bone mass as early as 30, so it is vital to get the message out to these kids while they are still growing. Our goal is to assist them in developing healthy habits that will last their lifetime.

Here’s how the program works: during the first class each child creates their “bank”, an empty water bottle they decorate with their name and a variety of pictures of calcium-containing foods. I play the role of “banker” and distribute deposit slips to the children. Each day the kids will record their intake of calcium-containing foods with a check mark. Each week in class the children turn in their deposit slips to the “banker” (moi), and I record their weekly totals on their individual “bank statements” that I keep.  I then give the children the appropriate number of “coins” (white buttons) symbolizing their servings consumed that they then will place in their “banks” (water bottles). The class can run for four to six weeks, depending upon the site, and whoever has the most “coins” in their “bank” at the end wins. It is important to note that the program encourages children to follow the “honor system”, as servings are recorded at home or at school where the “banker” is not present. 

In addition to creating the bank and understanding how the banking system works, the program tackles a different calcium-themed topic each week. The kids participate in a variety of activities such as word searches, crossword puzzles, idea sharing and team events, just to name a few. I stress how many dairy servings they should eat a day, what a serving of dairy looks like, and even talk about alternatives to dairy foods should some of the kids be lactose intolerant or practicing vegetarians/vegans. We also discuss the role of calcium and dental health and the importance of good oral hygiene, and what osteoporosis is and how their calcium intake now can affect them later in life. At the end of class I provide the children with a healthy calcium-rich snack such as yogurt, cheese stick, low-fat dip and veggies, or pudding.

At a class I recently facilitated at Clark’s Corner 4-H in Harrington, I asked the children on our last day together if they ate more calcium-containing foods because of the program, and they all shouted “YES!” Then I asked them if they would continue to eat those same foods at the same frequency even though they wouldn’t be getting “credit” and they also answered me with a resounding “YES!”  One child summed it up perfectly: “I like milk. I now like yogurt even though I thought it was nasty before. I love cheese. And the sour-cream ranch dip and broccoli was awesome. This was a fun class.”

And that, my friends, is why I have the best job in the world!


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Filed under Children's Nutrition

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