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Laurel Valley elementary students encourage peers to try healthy dishes

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Madison Beatty, 11, a fifth-grade student at R.K. Mellon Elementary School in Ligonier, distributes a sample of broccoli salad to a fellow student during Wellness Wednesday. Beatty was the guest chef for the day. photo taken by Brian Henry on Tuesday, March 26, 2013.
Jewels Phraner | Ligonier Echo
Fifth-graders, (from left), Michael Marinchak, 11, Angela Haase, 11, Madison Beatty, 11, and Noah Sam, 10, have been the guest chefs at R.K. Mellon Elementary School. Students are chose to hand out samples as part of Ligonier Valley School District's Wellness Wednesday program, which encourages students to taste healthy food. taken by Jewels Phraner MArch 27, 2013
Jewels Phraner | Ligonier Echo
The guest chefs at Laurel Valley Elementary School include, (from left), third-grader Tim Brendlinger, 9, fourth-grader Rhett Coyle, 10, and fifth-grader Ashley Hofecker, 11. Taken by Jewels Phraner on March 13, 2013
Jewels Phraner | Ligonier Echo
Third-grader Paige Caldwell, 9, (left) takes a sample of broccoli salad offered by March's guest chef, third-grader Tim Brendlinger, 9. at Laurel Valley Elementary School. Caldwell said she didn't like the broccoli salad, but she was glad she tried it. photo taken by Jewels Phraner on March 13, 2013

Tim Brendlinger nervously adjusted his chef's hat as the kindergartners and first-graders entered the Laurel Valley Elementary School cafeteria.

The cuffs on the oversized chef's coat hung past his fingertips as he waited to speak.

“Once I grabbed the microphone, I was ready,” the third-grader said.

“Here are some facts about broccoli,” Tim said, launching into his speech to the captive audience of his youngest schoolmates.

At the end, Tim asked who would like to try the broccoli salad, specially prepared as March's healthy sample. Nearly every hand in the room shot up.

Tim, 9, was Laurel Valley's March guest chef as part of the district's Wellness Wednesday program.

The program encourages elementary school students to try something new and healthy each month by handing out samples of the dish, recipes to take home and stickers to those who dare to take a bite.

“You don't have to eat the whole thing. We're just asking that you taste it,” Food Service Director Lori Loughner told students at the four lunch periods for K-5 students at Laurel Valley and R.K. Mellon elementary schools.

Loughner, a registered dietitian, is employed by The Nutrition Group, an Irwin-based food management firm under contract to the district.

The Wellness Wednesday program started at all Nutrition Group school districts last fall, but Loughner said she thought the message would be better received if it came from peers.

“I just thought it would be good to get the kids involved with the other kids, encouraging them to eat healthy,” she said.

Each month, a different student is chosen to speak to classmates about that day's sample. This year's samples include white chicken chili, citrus-beet salad, carrot-raisin salad and broccoli salad.

After Tim spoke, he walked around to hand out samples to the kindergartners and first-graders.

First-grader Chelsea Dimmick, 6, said she loved the broccoli salad.

Fifth-grader Madison Beatty, 11, was R.K. Mellon's guest chef for March.

She said she was impressed with how many kids tried — and liked — the broccoli salad.

Other guest chefs include Laurel Valley fifth-grader Ashley Hofecker, 11, and fourth-grader Rhett Croyle, 10; and R.K. Mellon fifth-graders Noah Sam, 10, Michael Marinchak, 11, and Angela Haase, 11.

Students are chosen based on demonstrated leadership and academic standing, Loughner said.

In addition, the Laurel Valley students have demonstrated an interest in a career in the food industry.

Although many students liked the broccoli salad, the citrus-beet salad received mixed reviews.

“I didn't really like it,” Ashley Hofecker said. “I'm glad I tried it, though. You never know what you're going to like.”

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or

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