Eat Smart to Play Hard

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mapEat Smart to Play Hard (ESPH) is an elementary school campaign developed using social marketing and designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among 8- to 11-year old children.  

The ESPH program aims to reduce obesity and prevent chronic disease in children, families, schools, and communities across New Mexico by making it enjoyable and fun to eat healthy and exercise. The program is available in English and Spanish and includes: 

  • Student materials
  • Parent Engagement 
  • Training and school support
  • Fun Day event   
  • Promotion

Over 10,000 students in 15 counties throughout New Mexico have participated in Eat Smart to Play Hard. Students in grades 3-5 are encouraged to make delicious, simple recipes and complete fun activities at home with their families to earn prizes. Any NM school with over 50% of the students receiving free and reduced lunch qualifies for ESPH.

All students that participate in ESPH receive a: 

  • Fun book: a tracking booklet with weekly recipes and activities for students to do with their families. 
  • Prizes: infused water bottles, magnets, sport backpacks, and more prizes are earned for completing the recipes and activities in the fun book.  
  • Fun Day event

Eat Smart to Play Hard

Eat Smart to Play Hard (ESPH) is a 6-week campaign that engages students, parents, school staff, and other community members in a common goal to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The campaign offers 8-11yr old students a chance to play a fun game and earn prizes for making simple healthy recipes and playing fun physical activities at home with their families.  

School staff facilitates the program by keeping track of students' progress, distributing incentives, and helping plan the Fun Day event where children enjoy fun physical activities, fruits, and vegetables.  

Everyone involved will play a role in contributing to the health and well-being of their communities. Eat Smart to Play Hard is an evidence-based program that has repeatedly shown in outcome evaluation to increase fruits and veggies' consumption. New Mexico students helped create ESPH, so it is no surprise that they genuinely enjoy playing it. 

"It was very fun I loved it, whoever wins next year is going to be very lucky. My favorite part was everything it was so much fun." -4th-grade student

Today's students face many obstacles when it comes to academic success, including inadequate nutrition. A healthy diet and exercise can help increase your student's learning capacity and test scores. This campaign was designed to support students, their families, and the community in their efforts to achieve healthier lifestyles by bridging the gap between the classroom and the home.

Considering the limited time that teachers and school staff have for additional programs, ESPH was specifically designed to require very minimal effort from the teacher. Many teachers successfully incorporate ESPH into their core academic requirements by applying math and other concepts from the ESPH Fun Book.   

Eat Smart to Play Hard is designed to make it easier and fun for students and their families to eat their recommended daily fruits and veggies. Parents play the most vital role in their children's health; therefore, children need the help of their parents to improve their diets.  

When children eat a well-balanced diet, they have more energy and do better in school. The ESPH campaign provides student materials and prizes that will motivate children to eat more fruits and veggies. Students need the help of their families to complete the ESPH program. 

ESPH is just the beginning of a lifelong commitment to healthy living. Additional healthy and inexpensive recipes, videos about nutrition, and other resources are in the link below. We encourage you to play this fun and engaging game with your child and to always Eat Smart to Play Hard!

“Come Inteligente para Jugar Duro” es una campaña de 6 semanas donde la comunidad, los padres, maestros y las escuelas se unen en un objetivo común de " Comer bien para jugar duro. " Estamos enfocados en ayudar a niños de 8 a 10 años de edad para que aumenten su consumo diario de frutas y verduras al introducir y reforzar el concepto que la alimentación saludable ayudará a que los niños jueguen. Todos los materiales están en español.

In 2010, the NM Human Services Department partnered with UNM PRC to translate to Spanish and test the USDA's Food Nutrition Services (FNS) core nutrition messages with parents of elementary school-aged and preschool children and with 8-11-year-old children. With USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education funds, this social marketing program conducted extensive formative research in three phases providing valuable insight that led to creating the ESPH campaign that exists today.   

As described by CDC, social marketing is "the application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution, and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences to improve their welfare and that of society." For more information on social marketing and its applications to nutrition intervention, go to 

The Social Marketing team at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Prevention Research Center (PRC) is responsible for implementing ESPH. The UNM PRC serves as a home for transdisciplinary community-engaged prevention research and health promotion.

With the Center and community partners' support, the Social Marketing team plans to expand ESPH to all NM counties. We work closely with the NM SNAP-Ed state agency, the New Mexico Human Services Department as well as with all other SNAP-Ed implementing agencies; the New Mexico Department of Health Obesity Nutrition and Physical Activity (NM DOH ONAPA), NMSU, Las Cruces Public Schools district, Cooking with Kids and Kids Cook.   

The project is funded through the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant.  

Eat Smart to Play Hard Community Events

ESPH medals for completing the program.
Students playing soccer at the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project in Zuni, NM.
Students making infused water at Fun Day.
Community nutrition event.
ESPH parent involvement
Fun Day
An ESPH banner made by students.
UNM Lobo soccer play supporting an ESPH Fun Day.

Learn how to play Eat Smart to Play Hard! Watch the video below.   


This project is funded through the USDA, and is subject to The USDA Nondiscrimination Statement. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.