Oh, go ahead, play with your food

By Phil Hodgen, The East Oregonian

WESTON — Students, teachers and cooks at Weston Elementary School learned Friday that in spite of what their parents may have told them, it's really OK to play with your food.

"I tricked my mom by becoming a chef," culinary professional Tom Ohling told the students. "Chefs get paid to play with food."

Ohling's mission: nutrition. He provides a hands-on food adventure designed for elementary students, which is made possible through a grant by the Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Education.

His mandate is to bring his seminar to an elementary school in each school district in the state. The workshops innovatively teach simple nutrition students can use as a key to health and learning how simple rules can make it fun.

Ohling reminded students that everyone is on a diet, every day, and that they should approach it as an important part of their self-image.

"The old saying that your are what you eat is another way of saying that when we make choices about what we eat we choose who we become," he said. "Bad diets happen when we don't follow the food pyramid."

An accomplished food "designer," he used a cantaloupe and video graphics to portray a food pyramid and its four levels of nutrition. The carved sections turned into a rooster, another reminder of the importance of a good breakfast.

Ohling cited a Tufts University study that showed test scores and grades improved markedly when students made their first meal of the day a priority.

"We used to think that no breakfast meant no energy," Ohling said. "Now we also know that our brains don't work as well when we go without it."

In emphasizing the importance of eating five vegetables and fruits each day, Ohling likened it to the "high five" athletes often give themselves.

"Athletes do that when they do their best," he said. "We should look at a good diet as winning for our body and our brain."

The significance of low stress and its impact on the effectiveness of a good diet is another important message the program delivers.

"The nutrition we get is absorbed better if we laugh, talk and share while we are eating," Ohling said. "Tufts University also concluded that students who eat at least four meals per week with their family had higher test scores."

After showing students a swan fabricated from radishes and a dragon consisting of sliced meats, fruits and vegetables, Ohling led the students through an orange-carving class that gave them the opportunity to build their own personal parrot snack.

"I learned it was important to eat with my family," said third-grader Alaina Thompson. "I also liked the rooster he made."

"The best part was finding out that it's OK to play with my food," added Brittany Dobos, another third-grader. "I can't wait to tell my mom."

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Loved by audiences

“Thanks so much for being a speaker at conference. I learned more from your class than all of the rest. ”

— Wilma Hyde, OSFSA Conference

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Honored for commitment to quality education

American Culinary Federation President's Citation to Tom Ohling for education

from The American Culinary Federation

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“Your professionalism, high energy, preparedness and content knowledge made it easy for the group to relate their experiences to your information and motivate change.”

– Scott A. Milam Manager, Clark County District NW Natural

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A part of your team

ACF Good Guy honor to Tom Ohling nutrition educator

The ACF Chef & The Child Foundation Good Guy Award

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Recognized in the community

Firestone 100 national honor to Tom Ohling for service to others

Firestone 100 National Community Service Recognition

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Recognized for excellent childhood education

Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon honors Tom Ohling for childhood education programs

from Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon

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