Valley Natural Foods Community Garden

Midwest Food Connection: How Your Register Round-Up Donations Help Teach Kids to Eat Well

“Would you like to round-up?” is a phrase you’ve likely heard many times if you’ve been into Valley Natural Foods. This question is a part of our Register Round-Up program where we partner with you to give back to the community. Register Round-Up donations go to local organizations that do fantastic work. These donations go to local food shelves, providing healthy snacks for elementary school students, and a program called Midwest Food Connection.

From their website:

“Midwest Food Connection (MFC) had its beginnings in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN) when two natural food co-ops started a community outreach initiative in 1993. Four years later a group of committed educators founded our non-profit to bring natural foods education to a broad range of area schools. The programming has grown and flourished ever since.”

We spoke with Emily Houser, an Educator with Midwest Food Connection to learn more about MFC and the work that Register Roundup funds go to help support.

What is the Midwest Food Connection’s mission?

Our mission is “Midwest Food Connection brings educational adventures in food, cooking, and gardening to children and their families.”

Why is eating well such an important subject to teach to children?

We are in the business of getting kids interested in the details of food. By situating food as a subject of study, we show that it is worthy of our minds and our attention. During our lessons, food is not another boring part of a daily routine or a list of vitamins and nutrients that we must eat, but rather, a vital component of life–the life of our bodies, our plants, our soil, and our ecosystem. In addition to the impact we have on our students’ health, environmental consciousness, community engagement, cultural awareness, and life skills, we pass on a sensitivity to the special place food has in the world. We empower young people to care for themselves, for the land, and for each other.

By preparing their own healthy snack, kids are empowered to do so again in the future, and to share what they learned with someone else.

What do your classroom visits/field trips look like?

We typically visit each classroom four times for 55-minute, immersive lessons that include a hands-on or interactive component, cooking, tasting, a story or song, and an artwork or writing assignment. In the spring and fall, we facilitate field trips to local farms (and one field trip to Valley Natural Foods!) so students can meet farmers and see with their own eyes where food comes from and how it is grown.

How does a hands-on experience with food help instill healthy eating habits?

Valley Natural Foods Register Roundup Midwest Food Connection

Children get hands on experience with fruits and veggies through the Midwest Food Connection’s programs.

I always remind students that it takes trying something 10 or 15 times before you know whether you like it or not. Being exposed to a food, even if it’s just holding a winter squash or smelling a piece of kohlrabi (then maybe next time touching it to their tongue), makes a child more likely to try it the next time they encounter it.

By preparing their own healthy snack, kids are empowered to do so again in the future, and to share what they learned with someone else. When the students make salad, I tell them that now they know they can do it, so now they can make a salad for themselves any time or even make one for their family. Now they have this skill for life.

How do the children respond to the program?

Children get excited about having us as guests in their classes and getting the chance to look at, interact with, and taste new foods. We have had many parents report to us that after having our lessons, their child is now excited about a certain food, a food they previously hadn’t been interested in or liked.

How does Midwest Food Connection partner with local co-ops?

MFC receives sponsorship and fresh ingredients for our teaching from local co-ops. We then bring the fresh food we picked up at the co-op into schools and represent the co-op in our healthy food programming. We bring three second grade classrooms from Westview Elementary on a field trip to Valley Natural Foods in the spring. Occasionally we will teach a free kids’ cooking lesson at the co-op–stay tuned!

How do Register Round-Up funds benefit MFC?

As a small nonprofit with a limited operational budget, we greatly appreciate the extra boost Register Round-Up gives us. We put the Register Round-Up funds raised at Valley Natural Foods directly toward teaching in our target schools in the area (Greenleaf, Westview, Echo Park, Southview, Thomas Lake Elementary, Gideon Pond School, Sky Oaks School, C. Huddleston School, Orchard Lake).

Is there anything that you would like to add?

We are grateful for the support of Valley Natural Foods and its wonderful customers for their Register Round-Up donations!

Register Round-Up is a program where we roundup your purchase amount to the nearest dollar. All of those proceeds go to the organization of the month. Cashiers will usually ask you if you would like to round-up, but feel free to request to! 5¢ donations can also be made when you donate your credit for bringing in your reusable bags.

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