The 'ugly' truth about nutrition

Tiffany Hess tossed the bowling ball from hand to hand, then crouched down and eyed the bowling pins.

Tiffany, a kindergartner student at Forest Park Elementary School in Kannapolis, took aim, rolled the ball, knocked down all three pineapple-shaped pins for a strike and jumped up with a hoot and fist pump.

She and her classmates were learning about healthy eating - including fruits such as pineapple - at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.

All five elementary schools in the Kannapolis City Schools sent their kindergarten students to the campus for the institute's third annual science fair, called "Food: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly."

The field trip was designed to help educate the students in a fun way about nutrition and to encourage good lifelong diet habits.

Beverly Jordan of the institute's community outreach department said the event also provides a way to introduce students to science at an early age.

"It's a way for us to hopefully get the kids to be excited about science as a career," Jordan said in her office Wednesday.

Booths with activities such as pineapple bowling help "get the kids to think about things in a different way," she said.

Jordan still remembers the day when she was in third grade and her teacher brought in a pomegranate and cut it open. It was her first experience with the fruit.

In a similar experience, students were introduced to Ugli fruit (a Jamaican variety of tangelo with greenish, wrinkled skin) and apple uglies (a fried or baked fruit pastry). Both are visually unappealing, and both have fruit in them.

Students were asked which they thought was healthier.

After a taste test of the two, most of the students agreed that although both are delicious, the Ugli fruit was probably healthier. They were right.

At another station, students tossed healthy food choices from a paper bag into a box labeled "healthy," and dropped unhealthy choices into a box labeled "unhealthy." There were outdoor stations and a crafting station.

At one booth where students learned about fat, a 5-pound mass of molded fat was put in a bookbag, and students wore it to jump from point to point. Then they took off the bag and jumped again to decide which was easier.

All the displays and booths were the result of hard work by students at A.L. Brown High School as part of their coursework. Jordan said the idea was first brought to them when they were asked whether there was some way the high school system could partner with the institute to teach good nutrition.

From the science fair's first year, which was more science-based, to this year, Jordan said, the program has been a fun evolution for the institute and the school system. She anticipates the event will take place for years to come.