University High School Teacher Kerry Eich On Teaching Students About Nutrition

Episode 111

Video Transcription

Jackie Keller: Welcome to Food Exposed where each week we take an inside
look at what’s on your plate. I’m your host Jackie Keller and
I’m the Founding Director of NutriFit, Los Angeles’ leading
healthy food company. I’m also a firm belief in community
participation and education. It is this belief that has taken
me in many different directions.

One of the more recent examples is my involvement with the Michelle
Obama Initiative, and Let’s Move and the Chef’s Move to
Schools movement. The Chefs Move to Schools Movement was
founded in May 2010 and it’s an integral part of First Lady,
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative. The goal is to solve
the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.

When my children were in elementary school, I visited their
classrooms and did cooking programs with the kids on a
regular basis. Like most parents I found this very gratifying
and I had a ball doing it. Young children are so easy to
please. As my kids got older and the average weight of school
age crept higher and higher, I was determined to continue my

Over the past 20 years, obesity rates among children have more than
doubled resulting in one third of the children and
adolescents in the United States now classified as overweight
or obese. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates 70% of these
obese children will grow to become obese adults and will be
susceptible to serious health problems.

Here are a couple of other surprising statistics about children.
These are from the CDC study in school health policies and
practices. On the nutrition front only 14.8% of school
districts required that students be offered a self-serve
salad bar. Just 38% of districts require that schools
prohibit advertisements for junk food or fast food
restaurants on school property.

On the physical education front, 59% of districts require that
elementary schools provide students with regularly scheduled
recess, but only 10.8% of districts require that middle
schools provide physical activity breaks outside of physical
education. 2% of districts require that high schools do so.
There are a number of issues with physical activities in
schools and there are also a number of school garden programs
popping up all over the country.

We’re especially lucky here in California because our climate is so
conducive to outdoor gardening. Why have school gardens?
Again, the CDC gives us this startling statistic. The
majority of America’s children go without eating one serving
of fruits or vegetables every day. Without eating one! So
while schools are not the only place that our kids eat, but
schools can help with this challenge.

My guest today is an expert in school gardens. She’s an expert in
school nutrition and how we teach our kids about their
health. Kerri Eich is the Director of the School of
Environmental and Health Sciences at University High School
in West Los Angeles where she has been teaching since 2001.
The school converted to LAUSD’s Small Schools Format in 2008
and she led the transition to the school and Academy of
Health and Environmental Sciences.

Her academy classes include food sciences, physiology and
environmental science. She also envisioned and created a
large school garden which was built in 2011. It includes a
native pollinator garden and she raises crops on a one acre
urban campus farm with the help of 90 food science students.

Kerri also coaches men’s volleyball and teaches health classes. In
addition to the Master’s Degree she currently holds, she’s
adding another Masters in Nutrition Science. On top of it
all, she is the mother of two young children.

Kerri, welcome to Food Exposed.

Kerri Eich: Thanks, Jackie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Jackie Keller: Thank you so much for coming. I know you had to get out of
school for this, right?

Kerri Eich: Yes. I did. I have a sub in my classroom. My kids were
excited I got to go and they promised… They wanted me to
say hello to you because they are excited that you’re coming
next week.

Jackie Keller: I am coming next week. Tell me more about your program.
Tell the audience more about your program. I know the part
that I’m involved with which is the classroom cooking and
we’ve been doing that for the better part of a year or two
years now. You’ve also converted your classroom into a pretty
well-stocked kitchen. What did it take to get that

Kerri Eich: Back in 2008 we wrote a grant. Four or five other teachers
and I wrote a grant for a California Partnership Academy
Grant. That gave us funding to transition our newly developed
small school into having an academy which focuses on a career-
tech pathway. We’re focused on preventative health around
community and public health.

I saw this need. I was teaching health. I’ve taught P.E. for six
years at my high school. I have a P.E. credential, a health
credential and an art credential. I saw the need… Even as I
was teaching health, the students’ habits weren’t really
changing. It wasn’t integrated enough into action-based

I presented to the principal… We had an area that we were going to
be moving into and there were four or five buildings on it
that were taken down because it was on a fault line. So the
contractors came in and put in a bunch of plants that didn’t
needed very much maintenance. The contractor was walking
through with the principal and I tagged along. He was hoping
to get another contract to maintain the plants that didn’t
need much maintenance.

I looked at him and looked at my principal and said, “I kind of want
to take over this space over here.” He showed me a plot of
land that was about six foot by ten foot. I said, “That’s not
really going to work for us. We have a lot of kids here. We
want to do something important.” And then I said,
“Potentially I kind of want to take over this hillside over

My principal is pretty easy going and forward-thinking so he was just
like, “All right.” He just kind of shook his head and was
like, okay. I measure it by my son’s age because it took a
long time to get the contractors to finish what they were
doing. They had to install all of the plants and the trees on
the hillside by contract before we could even go in there. So
the day that my son was born, I got a text from my principal
saying, “You’re good to build your garden.”

Jackie Keller: Oh my goodness.

Kerri Eich: So I had the support from the Environmental Media
Association, United Talent Agency and Mud Barron and the L.A.
Conservation Corp. What we did is we came together with about
$10 thousand of funding from United Talent Agency to build
about 900 square feet of raised bed gardens.

Jackie Keller: That’s wonderful.

Kerri Eich: About four months prior to this, I’d had a neighbor in the
community, Don Smith, who is really into gardens and was
helping out at the Venice Learning Garden. He said, “I’d like
to come and volunteer at your garden.” Little did I know, he
was a soil science wiz and an all-around great guy. He
designed our garden beds based on some ideas that I gave him
and after nine designs we put it in place.

We also built little amphitheater seating area so there was a place
for the kids to sit so we could come out and learn in the
garden. From there we just kind of expanded. I sat in my
principal’s office maybe six to nine months after we started
our garden and I was in the assistant principal’s office and
he was like, “Hey, Kerri. Everything’s going great. When are
you going to expand your garden?” So I said, “Pretty soon.”

You don’t just get those invitations very often. Then about another
two weeks later I was sitting in the principal’s office and
we have a tie-in’s program with UCLA. She said that they had
50 volunteers that wanted to do something. I said, “Well,
we’re going to expand our garden to create the food forest,
maybe we could do this.” The principal was sitting there and
was like, “All right. Okay.” From there on out, that was
Earth Day 2012, we put in 40 fruit bearing trees, food-
bearing trees into the food forest on the second half of the
hillside and since then we’ve just expanded and the kids have
gone with it.

Jackie Keller: What are the biggest challenges that you find dealing…?
It sounds like you’ve figured out the administration and how
to get what you need out of the administration and maybe out
of the community in terms of financial support. But you’re
dealing with a tough population. Let’s face it. High school
is a difficult age. I wasn’t an easy high schooler. I don’t
know what kind of a high schooler you were. My kids are past
high school age now. What are the biggest challenges dealing
with high school aged kids?

Kerri Eich: You’ve got to let them be kids. You have to know where
they are coming from. Our kids are coming to school… I
counted the zip codes one time. Ninety-three zip codes, over
23 languages spoken in the home and we have about 1,800 kids
on campus.

Jackie Keller: Wow.

Kerri Eich: Of those kids, many of them haven’t had a good breakfast.
They all like food. Everybody likes food, especially the kids
if they are having to travel quite a distance to get to
school, they are all hungry. I found something that they all
like to do. They all like to cook. I have kids ask me all
over campus, “What are we cooking this week, Miss Eich?”
Those are kids that wouldn’t even talk to me before.

They are excited about the garden too. They see things. They see
change happen. I ask the kids to give me some comments about
things that they learned from cooking and from gardening and
they’re like, “Miss Eich. Gardens are really like people.
Like raising humans.”

I feel like my students have become more in touch with their human
side because they’ve had the opportunity to create something
that’s alive and watch it grow.

Jackie Keller: Wow.

Kerri Eich: I really think that has shape-shifted how they see food. How
they see each other. It’s pretty exciting.

Jackie Keller: Yes. It sounds like it is. I know when I come to the
classroom, the kids are always very receptive. Whatever it is
that I have planned, they’re on the plan and they’ll go along
with it. Yes, there’s an element that hangs back and doesn’t
get involved. The two cool kids that don’t want to be a part
of it, but over the months and now over a year that we’ve
been doing this together, I see even more excitement and
involvement on the part of the kids and a real interest in
fruits and vegetables. I’m excited to see that because my
whole thing is that we need a more plant-based diet.

Kerri Eich: Right.

Jackie Keller: Do you find resistance to the fact that it’s healthy as
opposed to junky?

Kerri Eich: They come into the classroom with their Lipton Brisk Tea’s
and I’m like, “Okay. Put away the sugar water.” We don’t
always cook with meat. We mostly cook with plants. They want
to bring those things in because that’s what they’re used to.

In their reflections that they’ve been writing to me, I’ve been
seeing they are like, “Oh. Well, healthy food doesn’t have to
taste bad. It actually tastes good.” There’s a lot of things
they’ve never been exposed to.

I think a new habit takes several experiences to really appreciate
that habit and start to have it engrained with anybody. So
we’re really trying to show students how they can make
positive changes in their life with just a few plants and
that plants are pretty cool. That’s definitely fun to see
them change.

Jackie Keller: Before we go to the kitchen, and I did prepare something
today that I thought would be fun to cook with you sort of
along the lines of what we do in the classroom. I was
wondering if you could share with us the best way that the
community can support you in your efforts.

Kerri Eich: I think, really, just getting involved. I think any school
that’s within your vicinity that is easy accessible for you
to go to, I think that if you are interested in gardening and
nutrition, if you have something to offer, then you should go
get in touch with people in the main office. Figure out who
to talk to at that school and say you want volunteer.

Schools are dying for volunteers. I feel like since a lot of schools
around here have gates up or fences up, that they feel
inaccessible. I think that the one thing that has really
helped me… I don’t have a great background in plants, but
I’ve just been learning as I go, it’s getting the community
involved and realizing that it’s okay to ask for help.

This is a community that we share. It’s everybody responsibility to
bring our human population to raise our awareness and change
the way we think about food. It can’t just be one family or
one person at a time. Those interactions in the classroom…
You’re a one to 30 or 40 ratio with teacher to student in
some of these classrooms, so the more volunteers you have,
the more conversations you can have and the more positive the
influence will be.

Jackie Keller: Great. Let’s do some cooking.

Kerri Eich: All right.

Jackie Keller: Kerri, I thought today what we would do is a little quick
stir fry. I know we’ve done some of this kind of stuff in the
class and you’re probably working on something that you can
bring into the conversation as well with what you’re doing in
the classroom right now. Getting kids focused on something
that they can eat with their hands and that they can cook in
a few minutes that uses some of what they can find
inexpensively in the market or in the food forest on campus.
I thought this would be a great way to put together a simple
lettuce wrap kind of thing.

Kerri Eich: Okay. Great.

Jackie Keller: This would be the kind of thing that you might make at
lunch or for lunch. I’m starting with a little bit of fresh
ginger. As you know from our classroom cooking, we usually
try to start with something that looks and smells good. I can
already smell that ginger . . .

Kerri Eich: Yeah, ginger.

Jackie Keller: . . . coming. Of course, we know it’s a great digestive
aid as well.

Kerri Eich: Yeah.

Jackie Keller: Always a little onion to accent the flavors. When we cook
in your class you have some burners, right? Then you have
electrical equipment.

Kerri Eich: Yes. We have a makeshift kitchen. We didn’t even have sink
until about a year and a half ago when our celebrity garden
sponsor, Emily VanCamp came in and we’d made here some Swiss
chard wraps and she said, “How do you do this without a

So she helped us get a sink, but we make-shifted our whole kitchen in
the back of our classroom. We have some portable burners that
we bring in. We have cupboards that we’ve installed all
through the help of our CPA grants and other people within
the community.

It’s exciting to make lettuce wraps today. I’ve got two different
students. We’ve got our 6th Annual Health and Fitness Fair
coming up April 10th and I have two students trying to make
lettuce wraps. So I’m doing a healthy food challenge with the
students, so kids are teaming up in groups three to five and
they are creating a healthy dish that they have to prepare
for the class. Then the top 10 dishes will be chosen to be
served at the fair for healthy food tasting.

Jackie Keller: Cool. Now who’s deciding which are the top ten?

Kerri Eich: The students are choosing. They’re voting on the top ten
based on some of the same principles we did in the fall for
our food day challenge. The kids are very excited about it
and they’ve come up with some very interesting recipes. We’ve
got two different lettuce wraps that they are going to try to
make. So I’m excited.

Jackie Keller: Great. Let me tell you what I’ve done here because while
you’ve been talking I’ve been sort of tossing stuff in here.
So we started with the ginger and then a little green onion
or scallion. Then I added some shitake mushroom that I soaked
and stemmed and sliced. I’ve got some chicken breast meat
here which I cut into small enough dice that it would cook
really, really quickly. I’ve added to that some cut up bok
choy. Of course, any of these vegetables can be swapped out
for something else.

Kerri Eich: Right.

Jackie Keller: I put in some water chestnuts because I had them. If I
didn’t have them, we’d leave them out. Maybe we would put
celery or something else crunchy. I know when we cook
together in class we talk about the fact that it’s cooking.
It’s science, but it’s not science science. Being constrained
by a recipe in a situation like this really doesn’t make a
lot of sense. What you’re going to want to do is pick the
things you have on hand or are affordable. For seasoning, I
know that you have to watch gluten. When I come to cook in
your class we are very sensitive to gluten because you have a
gluten free…

Kerri Eich: I have a couple of students who are celiac.

Jackie Keller: Yes. So I’m using tamari here which is a gluten-free
naturally brewed sodium. A naturally brewed soy sauce. This
is a low sodium variety.

Kerri Eich: Great.

Jackie Keller: Hoisin sauce. Now, hoisin does have a little gluten in it,
but since we’re not in front of your class right now, we’re
just cooking for taste you can add in a couple of spoonfuls
of that for flavor. Of course, if you needed to be mindful of
certain ingredients, you would just leave them out in this
circumstance. I’ve also brought something that we’ve been
doing at NutriFit. In our garden and our farm we’ve actually
started doing some hydroponic farming.

Kerri Eich: That’s awesome.

Jackie Keller: Yes. So this is one of our hydroponic lettuces.

Kerri Eich: Beautiful.

Jackie Keller: You can see…

Kerri Eich: The roots.

Jackie Keller: There’s the little root ball.

Kerri Eich: Oh. That’s really neat.

Jackie Keller: Isn’t that neat?

Kerri Eich: Yeah.

Jackie Keller: You grow it in this little net. They’re called nests, but
they are really some little things. They just grow so
beautifully. So if you want to grab a couple of lettuce
leaves there that look good for wrapping, our mixture is
already done. That’s how quickly it cooks.

Kerri Eich: That’s great. We have lettuce popping up all over the
garden that has seeded itself in different places.

Jackie Keller: We call them volunteers.

Kerri Eich: My dad always says that a recipe is a source of
inspiration to help the cook. It can be led in the kitchen,
but it always doesn’t have to be followed. I’ve been trying
to help the kids understand that.

Jackie Keller: Yeah. It’s a tough concept when you feel uncertain of your
own knowledge base, but I think… Why don’t you see what you
can do as far as getting that one together?

Kerri Eich: I always talk to the kids about chemistry. If chemistry is
involved like in baking, then we really need to follow the
recipe. If there’s no chemistry and it’s just cooking, we can
make it… Let’s see. I’m going to fold it over a little bit.
There we go. Sorry.

Jackie Keller: Let me see if I can…

Kerri Eich: See if you can go over that a little better.

Jackie Keller: Let’s put this guy aside and we’ll see if we can get this
one to behave. Sometimes it does and sometimes you just can’t
put too much in there. Which is kind of good from a portion
control standpoint. You can use small amounts of the filling
and a lot of lettuce leaves. That way you end up getting a
lot of… There you go. That one’s more like a little bit

Kerri Eich: Let me just try to fix this one.

Jackie Keller: Now what I want you to do is I want you to taste that one.

Kerri Eich: Okay. I’ll taste it.

Jackie Keller: All right.

Kerri Eich: Yum.

Jackie Keller: Tell me how we did.

Kerri Eich: Mmm.

Jackie Keller: So maybe this will be one idea that your students come up

Kerri Eich: Yeah. Right. I like the crunch. The crunch from the water
chestnuts and the bok choy. It’s really nice.

Jackie Keller: Right. Good. Good.

Kerri Eich: Thank you.

Jackie Keller: As simple as that is as simple as it can be. When it comes
to healthy food and healthy cooking it doesn’t have to be
complicated and I’m so thrilled that you came to talk to us
today a little bit about your exploration in the kitchen and
food forestry. I know that our audience will want to stay
connected to you in order to follow not only your progress at
school, but the other things you’re actively involved with as
well. What’s the best way for them to reach you?

Kerri Eich: I have a simple e-mail. It’s [email protected]. You
can e-mail me. Otherwise, I’m at University High School in
West L.A. We have is the school
website. is our academy website.

Jackie Keller: Great. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m looking
forward to joining you next week in your classroom. I just
couldn’t be more thrilled that you came all the way over and
spent this time with me this afternoon.

Kerri Eich: Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here.

Jackie Keller: We’ll see you again soon.

Kerri Eich: All right. Sounds good. See you next week.

Jackie Keller: My coaching moment today comes to a workshop that I love
to present and have many, many times. It’s called Brain
Boosters: Improving Your Memory. Let’s face it, we’re all
concerned about forgetting what we really want to remember.
In this presentation I talk about the value of attaching to
memories using our different senses like smell, touch, taste
and sight.

We all know how powerful some of these memories can be. Like the
smell of your favorite food. The touch of a soft object you
carried around as a child. We also have auditory memories
like remembering the words or melody to your favorite song.
And symbolic memories like the V for victory or peace.

These memories which are made in the hippocampus area of the brain
are formed, organized and stored from sensory memories. It
turns out that gardening also helps us with memory formation
and retention. How? The sense of touch and smell are all
involved in gardening as are spatial relations. These
important activities help the brain form memories.

Let’s not forget that being outside, gardening means you’re being
active and that helps you remember more as well by
oxygenating the brain and improving blood flow to the brain.
It helps you remember, but it also helps improve your health
overall. Associating the activity with a sensory experience
using multiple senses, using physical cues like clenching
your fist to cement a memory, or repeating something out loud
multiple times, all of that will help you remember. You want
more memory aids? Contact me through this show at or at

Thanks for joining me today. Please tune in next week for another
look at what’s on your plate with Food Exposed.

For more Food Exposed, check me out on and until next
week remember make food your best friend and exercise your
companion for life.