University High School's UNI Project gets teens drinking vegetable smoothies

WEST LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The first period food science class at University High School in West Los Angeles was in full hum and their NutriBullets in full force during a recent school day.

Teacher Kerri Eich-Reiner announced to the class, "Let's see as our thoughts around plants have evolved, what your choices are in your blast bar."

The class is part of the UNI Project, a 90-day program that eases kids into making healthier changes through smoothies. Sponsored by NutriBullet, the program won an award at a recent Washington D.C. event hosted at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Summit.

In the first month, students are allowed to put whatever ingredients they want in their smoothie, said Sarah Lefkowitz, dietitian for Nutribullet.

By month two, half the cup has to have vegetables. In the last month, they have to use even more vegetables and nutrient-dense food like blueberries, beets and broccoli, Lefkowitz said.

"By the end of the study, they were all accepting salad for breakfast," Eich-Reiner said.

NutriBullet's 90-day study revealed 60 percent of the students were overweight and eating badly. The mini-blender company wanted to change that, so they set up a Blast Bar and provided produce, equipment and tutorials.

"This is where they're forming their lifestyle habits, so if we can impact change now, it's making healthier adults," Lefkowitz said.

So far, so good.

"I didn't know we were going to be part of the garden. I didn't know we were going to cook in class. I thought we were just going learn about calories," said University High student Jennifer Hernandez, who loves the variety.

Freshman Damariae Harvey is hoping to become a chef after trying new foods.

"Sweet potato and squash pancakes and I loved it, I loved it. And I just told my dad and he said we could try that one day," Harvey said.

Along with the Blast Bar, UCLA has funded a healthy athletes program for after school. It is not for kids who are already in sports, but rather kids who want to get into fitness. It's meant to help them learn how to work out and eat better.

"If we can start to change their flavor palate and start to give them a more visceral experience with healthy food that they enjoy and they have fun with, then it's not like were jamming stuff down their throat," Eich-Reiner said.

NutriBullet is awarding five additional schools the opportunity to participate in this project. The deadline for submitting a request is Nov. 1, 2014.

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