The rainbow of fruits and vegetables underneath a tin foil cover initially received mixed reactions. The strawberries were good, the students unanimously agreed. But others, like the bell peppers, would need to first be put to the test.

Monday was the first time many students at Manila Elementary School in Pleasant Grove had sunk their teeth into different plant-based foods.

“The main takeaway is the more foods that are close to a plant, the better,” said Elcio Zanatta, who owns Aubergine Kitchen with his wife, Mirian.

The Zanattas have traveled to a handful of Utah County schools over the last few months to teach students about plant-based foods, introduce them to fruits and vegetables and explain the importance of eating healthy, non-processed foods.

Third and fifth graders sat in Manila Elementary School’s cafeteria as they filled out diagrams showing different parts of a plant, drank a smoothie and then learned about the benefits of specific fruits and vegetables. The students tasted foods like cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes in order to give their review.

The cafeteria was split between students who were eager to reach in and try new things, and those who needed a little bit of coaxing from their classmates.

Principal Paul Finlayson said that encouragement was a way that peer pressure could be put to a positive use. He said the school offers fruits and vegetables to students at lunch, and that staff encourage students to grab a plant-based food before sitting down to eat.

“Our district has pushed for better nutrition,” he said.

Elcio and Mirian Zanatta opened Aubergine Kitchen in Orem six years ago after moving to Vineyard from Brazil. The business has since expanded to Lehi and Sugar House in Salt Lake City.

Elcio Zanatta said the nutrition presentations are a way for them to give back to the communities that have embraced them.

The couple became passionate about clean, healthy eating after Elcio Zanatta got sick 13 years ago. After getting colds, headaches and experiencing a loss of energy, he attended a seminar on healthy eating.

“We have seen the consequence of disease,” Mirian Zanatta said.

After switching to eating more fruits and vegetables, Elicio Zanatta said he felt his energy levels rise.

Elcio Zanatta explained the importance of nutrition to the students by using the analogy of caring for a goose in order to get an egg.

“The egg is important, but to take care of the goose is crucial,” he told the students.

He encouraged the students to take care of their bodies and teach their families to do it, too.

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