Instead of a lecture, some lasagna

Benjamin Chiet, a physical education teacher at Mercer Middle School in Aldie, helps students prepare a meatless spinach lasagna as part of a lesson on nutrition.
Benjamin Chiet, a physical education teacher at Mercer Middle School in Aldie, helps students prepare a meatless spinach lasagna as part of a lesson on nutrition.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011

For physical education teacher Benjamin Chiet, it's better to show teenagers how to eat healthy than tell them.

So, early last month, the Mercer Middle School teacher, 29, persuaded three classes of seventh-graders to prepare, cook and, ultimately, enjoy a meal made from whole-wheat flour, spinach, pumpkin and low-fat cheese. Many students even had second helpings.

"A hands-on activity resonates with students much more than a lecture," Chiet said.

"Ever since struggling with my own weight problems as a middle school student, I have had a passion for eating as healthfully as possible. As a teenager, I had to teach myself how to eat healthfully, so I feel it is a big part of my job to show my students how they can take charge of their diets," he said.

Loudoun County public schools' physical education and health curriculum requires that one-third of each quarter be spent teaching health units outside the gymnasium. Chiet counted the lesson as a day in the students' nutrition unit.

"Childhood obesity is a huge problem that we try to combat every day in physical education class, and for most children and families, it starts because of a simple misunderstanding of nutrition and how to incorporate healthy foods into everyday meals," he said.

Using the Aldie middle school's Family and Consumer Science labs, about 100 students prepared chocolate chip pumpkin oatmeal bars and meatless spinach lasagna during class time and ate their creations during their lunch break.

"My group did an interesting twist on what is the classic comfort food: chocolate chip cookies. We added pumpkin pie filling or some nutrients and whole-grain oats for a serving of grains," student Jonathan Nuckolls said.

Before the cooking lesson, Chiet used other hands-on activities to teach nutrition.

"We learned what's good and bad for your body," student Emily Stephens said. "Mr. Chiet handed us pieces of plastic food, the kind kids play with, and asked us to place each food in the different categories of the food pyramid."

In another activity, Chiet gave students jerseys of various colors and asked them to make a nutritious meal with the foods matching their jersey colors.

"These foods represented the different food groups on the food pyramid," Emily said. "It was interesting to see on our worksheets the difference between our lasagna and Olive Garden's lasagna. Ours was way healthier."


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