The little red-headed boy approached the table with an empty paper plate in his hands and an innocent look of longing on his freckled face.
"You want more?" said HCC nutrition professor Laura Christoph.
"Just wait til everybody's had a turn," she said.
"That's a hungry boy right there," said Christine Kokoski , one of Christoph's students, who was serving up fruit and vegetable kebobs on toothpicks to pre-schoolers at the St. Thomas School in West Springfield last week.
The mid-afternoon snack accompanied lessons in healthy eating Christoph's students have been bringing to the school all semester as part of a Service Learning project.
"The goal here is to instruct students in community nutrition," said Christoph, "which is a component of nutrition that they don't learn much about."
The students are all enrolled in Christoph's course, Nutrition 230: Nutrition Science for Nutrition Majors. As nutrition majors they have had to take multiple courses in biochemistry and chemistry -- the science behind the nutrition.
"They have the scientific background and they're learning how to translate the science into something that can be applied in real life," she said. "Carbs, fats, proteins -- how does that translate into something a 3-5 year-old can understand? Sometimes it's hard to simplify."
HCC student Melanie Wilk and Katheryn Cooper gave a presentation about the benefits of eating whole grain foods by reading the book, "The Whole Grain Choo-Choo," which incorporated physical movements like jumping and spinning with the refrain, "Choo! Choo! Whole grains!"
"Remember," said Wilk, "when you eat whole grains, it gives you the energy to do all that stuff."
Dominique DesLauriers, Catherine Loftus and Briana Goncalves talked about the health benefits of each category of brightly colored "super foods": green, red, orange and yellow, blue and purple.
"Who remembers why it's important to eat the rainbow?" said DesLauriers. "We have to get our colors from fruits and vegetables. That's what we call our super foods. We're gonna make kebobs of all these foods so you can have all your super powers."
After some outside physical activity guided by Kokoski and Elizabeth Meade, the students got their kebobs. They had their choice of red grapes, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries, grape tomatoes, snap peas, and cucumbers.
"This has been a very good program," said Denise Drapeau, an after-school staff worker at the school. "The kids have loved it. They tell us."
Photos: (Left) HCC nutrition student Melanie Wilk prepares a fruit kebob for a preschool student at the St. Thomas School in West Springfield. (Right) HCC students Katheryn Cooper and Melanie Wilk talk about the benefits of eating whole grains.