Elementary Pupils And Teacher Eating Lunch

March is National Nutrition Month®, and the 2018 slogan is “Go Further with Food.” This month is the perfect time to go further with support for healthier habits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has ideas to celebrate the month; Healthy Kids Challenge has seen success with the ideas posted for schools or workplaces. We’ve highlighted a few of those, along with some suggestions:

  1. Vote for your favorite fruits and vegetables: Offer a selection of fruits and vegetables cut into bite-size pieces. Ask participants to vote for their favorite vegetable and fruit. Post a tally board to record votes. Handout “20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits and Vegetables.” HKC Suggestion: Start a Fruit and Veggie Challenge. Have kids tally the number of fruits and veggies they eat each day.
  2. Classroom: Ask children to carefully save empty food product labels and boxes. Spend some time reading labels and comparing information in the Nutrition Facts panels. Expand into a menu-planning opportunity, individually or in teams, using MyPlate as the guide to a healthy meal. HKC Suggestion: For a “Snack Attack” lesson, collect snack food labels. Create a pictorial graph of food from the most to the least amount of sugar or fat.
  3. Organize a health fair that promotes healthy eating resources and important preventive screenings. HKC Suggestion: Make it as interactive as possible. For example, focus on fruit and veggie resources and conduct a vote for their favorites, as suggested in #1 above.

Family At Home In Eating Meal Together

A number of smaller “bits” of healthy changes over time can add up to make a big difference. At home or at school, changing our own habits and way of thinking is just as easy as practicing small changes.

It is still common to hear parents and teachers talk about rewarding kids with sweets like ice cream or a school pizza party. The concern is not because the kids are having ice cream or pizza, which can be part of a balanced eating plan. It is the consistent use of foods (very often sweets) that is perceived as a reward by the child…a habit that can be carried through life. Each month in 2018, choose several small “bits” of change. Practice helps form healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Ideas to Start the Year

  1. Turn off whichever screen is on (TV, computer, phone) while eating at home. Instead, talk with your family members.
  2. Put snacks on a plate instead of eating from a bag or box.
  3. Use fun physical activity as a reward. Anyone for miniature golf or a scavenger hunt in the park?
  4. Drink water instead of sugary beverages.
  5. Try a fruit or vegetable that you don’t usually eat.
  6. Tune up your “hunger meter.” Eat and enjoy small bites. Stop eating when you are pleasantly (instead of uncomfortably) full.

school girl carrying her lunch

Students play a unique and valuable role in advocating for healthier school environments. They can and should be encouraged to participate in the Wellness Council to:

  • Bring a different perspective to situations
  • Learn by participating
  • Model to peers
  • With guidance and training, help educate peers

Peer-to-peer influence is a growing area of research

There are many examples of peer influences on the behavior of children from preschool age through adolescence; both bad and good habits can be influenced. A recent study suggests that just viewing a DVD on which peers are eating a vegetable could positively influence acceptance of that vegetable. Younger students have a natural tendency to look up to slightly older youth. For that reason, they view them as a role model and someone worth listening to.

With guidance and training, peer-to-peer education and modeling can be very instrumental in improving the health habits of their younger peers. In addition, there are added benefits for the student mentors as they can improve their own confidence, leadership skills, nutrition and physical fitness knowledge, attitudes and habits.

Drinking fountain

The availability of water in schools is just one example of the multitude of reasons Wellness Councils are key to resolving barriers and creating solutions for healthy changes.

Increasing the availability of water in schools does indeed come with its own challenges. School food service departments must operate as nonprofits, yet they need to make enough money to be self-sufficient. While water is required, it is not considered to be a part of the reimbursable meal. This means there is no separate funding for equipment like cups and pitchers or water dispensers. Wellness Councils can help by taking the following steps:

  • Identify and take action for school needs (such as the availability of water) and opportunities.
  • Develop community partnerships, collaboration and fundraising for support.
  • Keep communication open with students, parents, and the community as to the needs and progress.
  • Develop and support campaigns to promote wellness opportunities or work with local organizations on a community-wide promotion campaign.

“The world will not change until we do.” — Jim Wallis

doctor check heart by stethoscope to obese asian boy

We strive to look at the positive rather than focus on the negative; however, sometimes we all need to take a step back and look at what is happening. A November 2017 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine projects that more than half of today’s children are expected to be obese at the age of 35 years, with about half of the occurrence happening during childhood.

While we have moved forward to reverse this trend, there are many other issues to address as well as new ones popping up here and there. There are still too many unhealthy snacks; too much screen time and too little physical activity; too much fast food; too many sugary drinks; and portion sizes that are out of control. The reality is that together we do have the power to make a change. We can make healthier alternatives more available, develop skills to make balanced food choices, and increase the enjoyment of moving more.

We can and need to take action in a positive way. This means working to meet the Challenge with “guilt free” environments and strategies that focus on health and feeling good, rather than on weight. Each of us can be a change maker. Think of all the places you can support healthier eating choices and help kids to sit less and move more. Start the conversation today.

Kids Reflect What We Do

December 27, 2017

Family Enjoying Meal At Home

Each issue of the WOWS Newsletter includes an inspiration quote. In the most recent issue is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

When it comes to developing healthy eating habits for children, that quote is very relevant. Just as important as the way parents talk about food is the way in which they choose to eat.

Children can also pick up on their parents’ attitudes about food. As role models, parents need to make sure they’re demonstrating a healthy attitude toward food so their children do, too.

Research shows that family mealtimes have a big impact on how children eat as they grow into adulthood and start making food choices of their own. One study showed that children who eat meals with their parents tend to eat more fruit, vegetables and dairy products than children who don’t. There is also research that shows that when parents increase their physical activity, kids do too.

Holidays are a great time to start making healthful eating the standard at home and at work. What you do everywhere you live, learn, work and play is reflected in your attitudes. Healthful behaviors don’t require giving up all the things you enjoy. In fact, the healthy attitude is that in a normal diet there are no good or bad foods, only the way in which you choose them. Making healthful choices comes down to developing healthy habits that guide balance.

Move More for Holiday Balance

December 11, 2017

Gym Class

Active play and healthful eating choices make up the equation for healthy balance. Most kids aren’t getting the recommended hour a day of physical activity, and it is even harder during the cold winter days. The holidays are an especially good time to get creative.

Because kids tend to be more motivated to participate in something they helped create, give the following activity a try!

  • Have kids create their own minutes of motion game.
  • Explain the goal is to create a minimum of 12 “roll and do” activities.
  • The materials needed include one dice, a stopwatch and 12 large index cards.
  • The instructions for the activities will be written on the index cards and will include:
    1. A specified amount of time to perform the activity from 1-6 (the numbers indicated by rolling one dice). For example, 1=30 seconds; 2=45 seconds; 3=60 seconds, and so on.
    2. At least two index cards for every number on the dice (a total of 12 different activities). Specify a physical activity for each card. It might be fun to use a “holiday theme” for the physical activity such as:
      • Dashing Through the Snow (jogging in place)
      • Jingle Bells (make a shaker out of an empty water bottle and un-popped corn or dry beans, then jingle the shakers up high and down low)
      • Winter Wonderland (pretend to ice skate)
      • Frosty the Snowman (pretend to build a snowman)
      • Jingle Bell Rock (rock the body and the shakers)
      • Let it Snow (pretend to ski)
    3. Kids will roll the dice and perform the activity for the number of minutes on the dice.
  • Optional: Play the song while performing the activity.
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