The USDA, the Healthy-Hunger Free Kids Act and growing public awareness has done much to improve school nutrition in the past year. Although things are improving dramatically across the board, we know that there are still pockets of resistance. If you feel that your school nutrition program isn’t offering the very best for your kids, here are some things you can do:
- Go to the source: Take the time to get to know your cafeteria manager and district director for school nutrition. Ask questions about their philosophy on school nutrition, their struggles and their limitations. Often school nutrition is blamed without the time being taken to get to know the back story. Are they stuck in contracts with food companies that aren’t delivering the quality of foods they’d like to serve? Are they frustrated because when they try to change the meals they find their trash cans filled with foods that the kids throw away? Are they oblivious to the problem? Before pointing the finger at the cafeteria, take some time to find out what’s going on and how you can help.
- Lead by example. Teachers often try to educate students about healthy choices but unwittingly provide poor examples. If you’re going to have that glass of soda instead of a water, hide it in a cup (better yet, try switching to water flavored with a little lemon or lime), don’t reward good behavior with candy and don’t punish bad behavior by taking away recess. Eat lunch in the cafeteria with your students (at least one day each week) so you can model making healthy choices. Parents need to lead by example as well, especially at breakfast time. Don’t rush out the door with a cup of coffee. Let your kids see you eating a healthy breakfast!
- Market healthy foods. Don’t assume that just because you change the foods in the cafeteria, kids will eat it; they are notorious for being skeptical about trying new things. Market those healthy foods to them in a fun way! Check out the OWG Foods of the Month program for a fun and easy tool to do that!
- Involve the PTA. If parents start to get involved using appropriate channels, it can create healthy pressure to bring about change.
- Throw down a challenge. Have your school go for one of the US Healthier School Awards. This requires that the ENTIRE school, including school nutrition be involved in the process. When you bring a school together to work toward a goal, everyone begins to see that they have a significant contribution to make.
- Inspire and thank! School nutrition is often a thankless job. Reinforce the good things you see by thanking your managers, directors and cafeteria workers. Have students write letters about the different healthy foods they like or color pictures to give to workers. As educators, stop by and say thank you. Parents, show your appreciation by writing a short note. A little positive reinforcement makes a big difference.
The problem of childhood obesity won’t be solved until we all choose to work together toward a solution. All of us (parents, teachers, school nutrition, coaches, etc.) have to take responsibility for this problem. We’re excited to take the month of September to highlight many of the exciting things we are seeing happen with school nutrition. Check back on our blog often this month!