Grant gives students a taste of healthy food | Michael Hastings: Food Columnist

Students at Downtown Middle School got a taste of healthy food Friday during a presentation from a local importer of Italian foods.

Tom Sephton of Batistini Farms in Clemmons gave short presentations to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at the school.

The demonstrations were made possible by a grant obtained by Elizabeth Hronek, a wellness coach who is also the school’s PTA chair for fitness and nutrition education.

“The North Carolina PTA has been promoting and encouraging fitness and nutrition (education) more recently,” Hronek said. “So I brought this idea to our PTA board and they approved it.”

Hronek applied for and received a $1,000 “Game On” grant from Action for Healthy Kids, based in Chicago. The grant money will benefit Downtown’s elementary and middle-school students.

The food presentations are just one component of educational uses of the grant money. Earlier this year, the school used Brain Break handouts that encourage physical activity help students stay focused and avoid restlessness and fidgeting.

By springtime, Hronek plans to build three box gardens to supplement the school’s greenhouse and existing outdoor gardens. Also next year she plans to organize healthy cooking classes that will involve parents and children together.

On Friday, Sephton spoke about healthy eating while dishing up samples of grilled chicken and arugula salad dressed with the Batistini balsamic vinegar and olive oil that he imports from Italy.

Sephton and his wife, Cindy, started Batistini Farms in 2014. They have won several awards for their high-end olive oil, which is sold at Whole Foods Market, Wine Merchants Gourmet and Salem Kitchen in Winston-Salem, as well as online at

“Eating healthy is really important at your age,” he told Katie Hepler’s seventh-grade class. He explained to the class how olive oil is made and spoke about its health properties. “Olive oil has a lot of good polyphenols,” he said, adding that these micronutrients have been associated with improved immune systems and cholesterol levels.

“The good thing about good food is it tastes good,” Sephton said. “And the more you eat it, the more you develop a taste for it.”

“I loved it,” said Cailen Schaefer, after tasting the grilled-chicken salad.

“It was good,” said Stanton Brown. “My mom used to work at Whole Foods, so she always buys all the non-GMO food and everything. I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s — ever.”

Healthy eating is already a part of Anaiya Willie’s lifestyle, too. “I like salads,” she said. “I eat salads almost every day.”

For other students, the salad was an eye-opener. “This is new to me,” said C’Mya Chisholm. “I’m used to pizza and potato chips. But I really liked it.”

Seventh-grade math teacher Kim Dishner said that food demonstrations can tie in with other teaching at the school. “We’ve been study rate, ratio and proportions. They’re taking a test on that today,” she said. “And a lot of the word problems have to do with food conversions and recipes.”

Teachers also are looking forward to expanding the greenhouse and garden areas, where kids learn where food comes from, how to grow it, and how good it tastes when it’s fresh and healthy. “They grew tomatoes this year, and we made salsa,” Dishner said. “A lot of the kids were so excited they went home and made it again and had it the next day in their lunch boxes.”

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