Kids in Nutrition (KIN) is teaching nutrition education to elementary school students across the United States to increase food literacy. KIN seeks to instill healthy and sustainable dietary habits that carry into adulthood and promote chronic disease prevention, health equity, and environmental preservation.

“KIN operates on a grassroots level, creating change from the local level outwards rather than trying to create change federally,” Co-founder and KIN CEO Michelle Nicolet tells Food Tank. “We believe that individual changes impact community changes could then impact city changes, and then you continue outward.”

Teams of five volunteer university student instructors visit local elementary classrooms to teach once a week for seven weeks, explains Nicolet. She shares that students explore a new topic each week, engaging elementary students with interactive visuals, hands-on games, physical activity, outdoor play, and group discussions. Lessons include themes such as fruits and vegetables, hydration, balanced plates, and reading nutrition labels. The courses are evidence-based and align with state education standards.

In 2014, Angela Shields and Nicolet co-founded KIN in response to a lack of nutrition education they witnessed in Santa Barbara, California where they were completing their undergraduate degrees.

“We wanted to do nutrition education specifically for kids because we both knew how important it is to instill lasting habits starting at a young age and we couldn’t find anything,” Nicolet tells Food Tank.

As undergraduates at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), they collaborated with Sprout Up, an organization that teaches children environmental science and sustainability, to develop a program model. Shields and Nicolet wrote the curriculum and drove to local elementary schools to teach hands-on nutrition lessons.

The organization has since grown to include seven chapters across the country. Their latest chapter opened at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) in 2023.

“The [Davis] chapter has experienced remarkable growth, starting with just two classrooms, 20 volunteers, and 42 elementary school students. Within two months, it expanded to encompass five classrooms, 40 volunteers, and 110 students,” UC Davis Lead KIN Director Gina Stevens tells Food Tank.

KIN is now working to expand its curriculum to include food sustainability and a wider range of grades taught.

“Currently our mission is to start implementing some of the food sustainability curriculum KIN has created along with our nutrition curriculum as we expand our program,” Ailsa McNaught, KIN Director at Tufts University, tells Food Tank. “Once we do this, we are hoping to possibly collaborate with some of the sustainability groups on campus and with the Friedman School of Nutrition. Given all of the innovative work they are doing in the field of nutrition, we would love the opportunity to work further with them.”

Their food sustainability lessons cover the climate crisis, food systems, animals, food waste, processing and packaging, food labels, and marketing. The seven-lesson program builds upon KIN’s nutrition curriculum and dives deeper into the food sustainability issues within the food system.

As the organization continues to grow, Nicolet expresses that she still focuses on the local barriers at each site.

Read the full article about kids' nutrition education by Natalie Wright at Food Tank.