Emily Smith at the Healthy Androscoggin office on Lisbon Street in Lewiston last week. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Emily Smith taught third grade for five years before trading it in to teach every grade, in eight schools, in Lewiston-Auburn — and adults on up to seniors, too.

“(I) decided I wanted to take a different route, but still wanted to teach,” said Smith, or Miss Emily as she’s called when she’s wearing her blue apron. “Now I get to teach in other people’s classrooms and I get to teach something I’m passionate about: food, nutrition, eating, all those fun things.”

Smith, a health promotion coordinator for Healthy Androscoggin and one of three Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program educators, started almost four years ago. She has a goal of teaching 900 students a year, seeing most six times or more.

For young elementary students, the message is around trying new fruits and vegetables. Last month at Washburn, Geiger and Park Avenue schools, it was roasted delicata squash for 250 kids.

For older students, it’s a series of cooking classes. Last month at Washburn, students served up avocado pudding and veggie quesadillas for 20.

At Lewiston High School, it was work on chopping skills, talking nutrition, making smoothies and talking about media influence with about 40 students.

Smith works in schools where 50% or more of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, typically working with one grade or entire classroom at a time.

“We really want to work with the kids who might be food insecure, who might not try these foods at home,” she said.

There’s lots of touching, tasting and sampling, and for the avocado pudding — a recipe with avocado, cocoa powder, vanilla and a dash of maple syrup — some fun smashing.

“We did it in Ziploc bags and we smashed it with our fists,” Smith said. Once it’s entirely smooth, which is a little easier to achieve with a food processor, she said, kids couldn’t taste the difference between it and traditional chocolate pudding.

Emily Smith has a goal of reaching 900 school children a year in Androscoggin County with lessons on food, cooking and nutrition. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I had four extra avocados, I’m like, ‘Does anyone want to take these home so they can make it?’ and they all raised their hands,” she said. “The kids (also) like making quesadillas, they like making anything. . . . A lot of kids, you’ll hear them say, ‘I didn’t know I could cook.’ You’ll have kids, they’ll come back the next day, ‘I showed my mom how to do that,’ and they’ll get excited. It does empower them to want to cook more and to have a healthier diet if they don’t have one.”

Along with her give-it-a-try message is another: “Don’t yuck my yum.”

“Don’t make faces, don’t say eww or yuck to people’s food choices,” said Smith. “If I say my favorite food is spinach, and somebody says, ‘Yuck,’ that might make me feel bad and then not want to eat that. No matter what we do, when I bring in a new food, even if it stinks or if it looks funny or whatever, the rule is don’t yuck my yum, and if somebody does do that, they always go like this, (claps hand over mouth), ‘I didn’t mean to just say that.’ I use that with adults classes too, to give it an element of humor.”

In addition to schools, Smith, who lives in Casco, is also in about five different spots out in the community each month, from health care clinics to assisted living facilities.

“I have to adjust my way of teaching every single day,” she said. “I might be working with a 90-year-old one day and a 5-year-old the next day, it keeps you on your toes and keeps things interesting.”

On Feb. 3, Smith will start a first-time teen cooking class at Lewiston Public Library. Making the location extra fitting: Smith is a two-time children’s book author.

She wrote “Thumbs Up for All” in 2017, inspired by a real-life lobster with an extra claw caught on her dad’s boat.

“It looked like it was giving a thumbs up,” Smith said. She wrote the story “about being unique and different and standing up for yourself.”

Her second book, “Annette Full of Friends,” was published last summer. She’s sold about 3,000 copies of the two through Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops, on Commercial Street in the Old Port in the summer and in 30 other retail locations in Maine.

“The point of the books is to teach a message about being a good person in one way or another, there’s a funniness to them,” said Smith. “‘Annette Full of Friends’ is full of puns; there’s probably 30 ocean puns in there.”

Upcoming free teen cooking class at Lewiston Public Library

What: Prepare, cook and try new recipes with Healthy Androscoggin health coordinator Emily Smith

When: Feb. 2, 4, 10 and 11, 3-4: 30 p.m.

Where: LPL second floor IDEA Lab

FMI and to sign up: 513-3135 or [email protected]

Emily’s work with Maine SNAP-Ed and Healthy Androscoggin is funded by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and administered by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) through a contract with the University of New England.

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