Building A Culture of Wellness: Students Inspire Others to Choose Nourishment, Movement, Gratitude, Nature

Students in Dr Karen Westervelt’s course HLTH 098: Restore, Rejuvenate, Energize were asked to describe and show how they create a Culture of Wellness for themselves or their community.

A sampling of their ideas and actions follows. We hope these students’ inspirational stories Restore, Rejuvenate, and Energize YOU!

Blanca Garcia: Spreading Knowledge, Spreading Wellness

I’m a huge fan of health and wellbeing. During the last years, I’ve learned a lot about how to incorporate a healthy diet as a lifestyle. This includes how to make good choices when shopping, when going out for dinner or lunch, knowing what is and what is not good for your body and when to give yourself a break. Because we are what we eat. As days pass by, more and more scientists, nutritionists and dietitians are encouraging society about the importance and relation of diet and mental-physical wellbeing. What we do, what we eat, how we think, determines how we live and so how we contribute to the world. 

For this Culture of Wellness project, I decided to make a change in my closest environment. This way I could make sure that the change was going to be made. I met my roommate only once before coming here, so we took advantage of our 26 hours trip from Madrid to Burlington to get to know each other. She then noticed how much I was into healthcare and how easy it was for me to follow that lifestyle. 

As time has passed by, she has become more curious about how to make healthier choices. I decided to show her the most basic step, which in my opinion is the basis for incorporating health into your lifestyle. How to make good choices when shopping, what is called label reading. As easy as you can choose a bad cheese (in terms of ingredients), you can also choose the healthiest option in the market. Good for you, good for your body. Furthermore, we ended up making a healthy version of a granola, which is the most difficult product to find in supermarkets.

Food industry incorporates thousands of additives, preservatives, and chemicals into our food. Such a simple thing as cheese, which is basically made of milk, rennet, and lactic ferments, can become a product with 8 lines of ingredients. Not only they are harmful for our body (or our body does not need/want them), but they also change our perception of real flavors and therefore our taste and preferences in food. Indirectly, it leads people to eat worse in the day to day, deteriorating their health. It’s shocking when you realize how many harmful ingredients are present in our daily grocery choices. But no worries, it’s even more shocking how easy we can make better decisions. Keep reading if you want to learn about the basics of label reading! I have also incorporated tips for the dining halls here at UVM. 

“Manos a la Obra” Less is more. 

To learn label reading, what better than going into a supermarket and learn directly from the products. Burlington has very nice organic and local markets such as City Market and Healthy Leaving Market and Cafe. With our little budget as exchange students, we decided to go to Target. For every product, I let her choose the product she thought was or looked like the healthiest. Then, we checked if that was true, explaining her why and what to look for. 

We started checking peanut butter. Three lines of ingredients (including inflammatory oils and all types of sugars) in comparison with just 1 ingredient, PEANUTS! 

Then we went for the yogurts. She picked the Greek Yogurt, which is perfect, but honey type. Food companies try to catch our attention with the packing. We read “Honey” and it seems natural, it would not be the worst choice. But then we checked the ingredients and, oh boy! 

In the same section, cheese. “Yes, Cheddar cheese is not orange Lucia”. Three basic ingredients vs 4 lines. 

We couldn’t find a cleaner non-dairy milk in Target, but just choosing Unsweetened instead of Original, makes a huge difference. Most of the ingredients are gums to make the product thicker (not harmful but not necessary). 

And the hardest product to find in a healthy version, granola. An infinite list of different types of sugars, inflammatory oils… let’s make one ourselves! 

Granola Recipe with UVM ingredients. 

I have taken a course this Fall called “Cooking for Health”, in which the final assessment was a Scavenger Hunt. The goal was to create a meal using only ingredients found in retail outlets on UVM campus. We took advantage of it, picked the ingredients, and started cooking. 


List of Ingredients and Where to Find Them Around Campus. 

– 2 cups* whole grain oats 

– 1⁄4 cup pumpkin seeds 

– 1⁄4 cup raw almonds 

– 1⁄4 cup raw pistachios 

– 1⁄4 cup raw cashews 

– 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil (AOVE) 

– 1⁄2 cup orange juice 

– Half chocolate 72% Lake Champlain 

– 1 plain Greek yogurt 

Redstone/Simpson dining: whole grain oats (gluten free zone), AOVE and pumpkin seeds (salad bar), oranges (entry), plain yogurt (at breakfast). 

Redstone Market: plain yogurt (fridge). 

Central dining: pumpkin seeds (salad bar). 

Cat Pause market (Davis Center): chocolate 80% Lake Champlain, pistachios, cashews, almonds. 

1. Preheat the oven at 350 oF. Measure every ingredient and line the baking sheet with parchment paper. 

2. Chop the nuts in non-uniform sizes. * Add the oats, seeds and chopped nuts to the big bowl, and mix. You can use your hands. 

3. Chop the chocolate in tiny pieces, almost as if you were grating. Based on your preference, add the chocolate to the mix now, so it will melt in the oven, or once the granola is cooled down (having pieces of fresh chocolate). 

4. Incorporate the liquid ingredients (orange juice and AOVE) to the mixing bowl while making envolvent movements. Make sure you get a homogeneous mixture. Everything needs to be coated. 

5. Place the mix onto your prepared baking sheet. Use the spatula to spread it. If looking for extra-clumpy, press it down to get a more even layer. Ready to get into the oven! 

6. Bake until golden for about 20-25 min. Keep an eye on it. 

7. To get the fancy chunks of granola, let it cool completely before breaking it up with your hands. It crisps up as it cools. 

8. Plate your granola with a handful spoon of plain yogurt and enjoy! 

*This way the texture will be wild. I like to find big pieces in my granola but if you prefer smaller sizes, cut almonds and cashews in 3 pieces (as shown in the picture, not in sliced) and pistachios in half. 

What About Nutrition? How are The Ingredients Emphasized? 

Mix of raw nuts will get roasted, intensifying their flavor and adding crispiness to the granola. The orange juice acts as a sweetener, it will crystalize thanks to the heat transfer coming from the oven (convection, radiation, and conduction of the oven plate). As a result, it will integrate the oats with the rest of ingredients to form little clusters of granola. The extra virgin olive oil, which is the main fat of the recipe, will contribute to the golden appearance. The raw mixed nuts incorporate a high content of omega-3 and unsaturated fatty acids. Good fats are known to help reducing the harmful fats and increase, among other aspects, heart health. An important nutritional improvement is to hydrate the nuts and pumpkin seeds before cooking, so we increase their bioavailability (same example as cumin and pepper). It’s important to look for a plain (unsweetened) and non “non-fat”. Those fats are the ones in charge of absorbing the rest of nutrients and provide satiety. Oats are a source of complex carbohydrates which, among many benefits, help maintaining the intestinal transit and have a high satiating effect. 

We finally went to Central dining and try it with plain yogurt. 

– Reflections and Knowledge gained. 

Lucia’s testimony: “I’ve never understood food labels because there were always a lot of things that I did not understand what they meant. I guess the names were too scientific. Going with Blanca to the supermarket made me realized that less is more and that if I don’t understand something, it’s probably not good for me. I’ve also realized that I should learn more about what I introduce into my body”. 

Mine: “I think that Lucia learned a lot today in Target. She actually left some cookies she had taken before starting the lecture. I feel grateful for spreading a bit of wellness in my closest environment, although I’m also kind of sad because my first idea couldn’t be made. However, I have promised myself to make it happened. I will work on it for Spring 22. The idea was to try to change what Redstone market offers. They have a healthier section, but some of the products are not actually healthy”. 

Dining Hall Hacks. 

Philadelphia VS other cream cheese brand 

Jif peanut butter VS any other 100% peanut butter (in CatPause) 

100% whole grain Cheerios, Corn flakes (Redstone), oats (in the Gluten free section) VS any other cereal 

Dressing sauces for salads VS Extra virgin olive oil (Redstone) or Olive oil (Central) 

Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds VS Croutons 

Unsweetened almond milk (Central) VS Almond milk (Redstone) 

– A Source of Daily Inspiration. 

I would also love to include my Instagram account as a source of inspiration to make healthier choices (I usually post restaurant/product recommendations and what I eat in terms of what I choose, no quantity). Instagram: @naturalfoodie.bgg 

Molly Hurd: An Apple A Day Keeps the Doctor Away – Exposing Medical Students to Culinary Medicine as a Method of Healing

Food is medicine. It’s a sentence that we hear a lot today, but the idea still has yet to permeate the medical field. Rather than turning to garlic as an anti-biotic or ginger as an anti-nausea agent, we look for the prescription-the drug that will cure all of our ails. And doctors are just as guilty of this mindset. The purpose of this project was three-fold: Explore the world of culinary medicine and the different foods that are instrumental in preventative healthcare; work with medical students at UVM to plant the seed that food is medicine, and as a doctor it is important to have a wide knowledge base to best inform and heal your patients; and finally get medical students out into the community to teach potential patients how they can use food as medicine.

To meet the first goal, I explored Tulane’s culinary medicine curriculum and a book called Chef MD. I was amazed at the variety of foods and herbs that we could be consuming that have amazing health benefits. Some of the key take aways I learned: are eat color. Foods with anti-inflammatory benefit are bright in color. For example: pomegranates, tomatoes, turmeric, broccoli and kale. All are high in antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals in the body that cause inflammation. I also learned to eat foods that give better satiety, meaning they keep you full for longer. These are lean proteins like yogurt, fish, poultry and nuts; healthy fats like olives, olive oils, wild salmon, walnuts and almonds; and resistant starch like legumes and brown rice, which take longer to break down. 

To meet the second goal, I chose three modules from Tulane’s curriculum that I thought were interesting, to share with the four medical students who volunteered to learn about culinary medicine. I shared the module on anti-inflammatory diets, fad diets and what to know about them, and diets for Celiac’s disease. In addition to sharing knowledge, I also invited these medical students to join our culinary medicine class with UVMMC head chef Leah Pryor. Leah taught us how to make nourish bowls: a collection of vegetables on a grain base. She imparted wisdom such as using healthy fats to increase absorption of nutrients, or an acid such as lemon for a flavorful and healthy dressing. And most importantly, when discussing culinary medicine, and just healthy eating in general, meeting people where they are, which is a concept that I think is really important to master especially for future doctors.

Finally, for the third goal, I had hoped to include an outreach program, where myself and the volunteers would teach a cooking class at the King Street Youth Center. Due to time constraints this part of the project has not been tackled yet. However, I did apply for and receive funds from the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation to buy the necessary supplies, so I hope this will be an event that will take place in the spring!

There were certainly a lot of challenges to this project, namely Covid and schedule related. I had hoped to meet with the medical students in person, rather than just over Zoom, but it was difficult to find a space that could accommodate us with Covid guidelines, and also coordinate with the schedules of busy students. The outreach portion of the project was delayed due to waiting for the funding, although now that we have it, I hope to move that piece forward!

Daniel Rainville: Gratitude in School

Art Education


Gratitude is an important concept that should be implemented into everyone’s life. Whether a simple reflection of thankfulness or a deep dive into larger scale appreciations, showing gratitude is healthy and needed. In my preschool classroom over the past few months, I have administered activities and practices to teach and create an environment that harvests gratitude. This has been shown to increase not only my students’ understanding of the idea, but also has shown within their actions and own reflections.

Project Process

When I began to enter this process, I thought about the implementations already in place within my preschool. This drew me towards our Gratitude Song. We sing our gratitude song before each meal and snack that we have throughout the day. We give this time to be thankful for the food we are eating and for the world around us. I also looked towards daily mood check ins. This is a time in the morning during our circle activities where each child is asked about their mood and why they are feeling this way.

To make additions to these small acts that involve reflection I began with explaining in more depth what our gratitude song meant for me and then asked my students what they felt. I also asked questions regarding things they are thankful for. In the beginning I was receiving statements such as “family”, “friends”, “pets”, and “toys.” Although overtime as we explored gratefulness more, especially around thanksgiving I received much more thought provoking and personal responses from my students. Responses such as “being able to draw with markers”, “celebrating my birthday”, “having snacks with friends” showed me that these lessons led to an understanding and more thoughtful response to the question, what are you grateful for?

In addition to creating conversations with my young students a new feeling was added to our morning feelings check-in titled “Loved.” When I introduced this feeling I began with thankfulness, although students I found often used this to lead to being loved by their friends, family, pets like the reasons for gratefulness stated above. To tackle this, I often responded with well why are you feeling loved? This created a really great conversation for students to think about as well as have with me and each other that created visual reflection.

Throughout this semester I have also introduced many projects and activities that have incorporated wellness and gratitude. We create numerous amounts of artwork and practice our writing and reading skills each day. This gave me the opportunity to also incorporate topics my students felt they held gratitude for and expand on them on their own and with help from one another. These ideals have been reintroduced and carried throughout my class and have certainly grown from them.


One of the biggest aspects of early childhood education that truly makes me enjoy it greatly is the ability of children to reflect, think, and accept. Introducing gratitude and the meaning of such concepts gives young students the tools and ability to think deeper about their day-to-day life. Sometimes even for children it can be hard to feel upbeat and joyful or think of things that you are grateful for. Although it has been proven through this experience that giving students the abilities necessary, they can find gratitude and love all around them even at such young stages of development.

Rosie Caouette: A Culture of Wellness

For my culture of wellness project I decided to tackle the slackline in a community setting. My father used to slackline and since I have always found a desire to learn how but have never actually pushed myself to. I think in many scenarios starting something new is half the battle; whether it be starting a new book, deciding to learn the guitar, etc. This definitely applies to slack lining so I was very grateful to have this project as an excuse and a little boost to get myself started. So in some ways it was a combination of convenience and desire that forced me to embark on my slackline journey. I got my mom to ship me my dad’s old slackline mid-September and was eager to get started right away.

The day after receiving the package I took it to the pines on Redstone campus, sloppily set it up and got started. Not to my surprise I was pretty awful at it initially, however to my surprise this new recreational activity attracted a whole new group of peers. Throughout the first day tons of kids hammocking in the area came over and asked to try it out. We talked and laughed as we took turns trying and failing at walking across. After we were done we made plans to slackline again and since then we have made a group chat where we text about where and when to set up the slackline. Every time I go out I meet new people. I truly feel that through recreational activities the strongest bonds form.

Recreation forces you to be vulnerable and creates a common interest – both of which I feel are huge in creating real connection. I feel I have benefited substantially through my new recreational activity. Being a freshman is hard. It can feel exhausting to make small talk, get used to a new workload and stressors, and navigate the feelings of loneliness. Slacklining has in some way or another improved all those aspects. When slacklining with new peers we don’t have to ask the same three questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major? Instead people just join in and we effortlessly talk about strategy, laugh at each other’s failures, cheer on successes, and through it all get to know each other in a less structured format. I’ve also noticed slacklining has become a huge destresser for me. If I’m feeling stressed or like I need a break from school work, slacklining for just 15-20 minutes does wonders for my mental health. It forces me to focus on something besides college and I notice myself feeling much more motivated to get my work done after the needed break. It’s also become a way I can take a break but still feel productive. Slacklining may seem silly and easy but the activity is actually quite exhausting. I’ve noticed many mornings after a day of slacklining my legs, specifically my right leg which I use to boost myself up, aching. It honestly feels very gratifying and rewarding to be sore and is a reminder of my accomplishments. Most importantly slacklining has helped me to form new bonds with peers, find people I have commonalities with, and combate the feelings of loneliness on campus. Who would have thought there was a huge slacklining community at UVM! I also feel this is an activity that is sustainable in my life. I love skiing and snowboarding and the community and bonds that come with the activity, but that only satisfies a few months of the year. Slacklining can be used as a substitute for non-snowy months. I appreciate the challenge of trying a new activity and am super motivated to continue to improve my skills alongside my peers. Further, it is an activity that I can do pretty much anywhere and take back home with me to Alaska. I don’t need a lake, or a mountain, or a boat, or a bike to slackline. I am super excited to continue slacklining at UVM, back home, and wherever life takes me.

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