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.
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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.

Creative Cafeterias

October 16, 2017

Teenager eating healthy lunch with friends in school lunchroom

The National School Lunch Program serves more than 30 million children every school day. Of the 5 billion lunches served annually, the USDA reports (Source: USDA FY 2016 preliminary data) there are:

  • 20.1 million free lunches
  • 2.0 million reduced price lunches (students pay $0.40)
  • 8.2 million full price lunches

School Nutrition professionals are continuously asked to do more with less. Food isn’t their only cost; there are also the costs of labor, supplies, and indirects (e.g., electricity, custodial help). A recent School Nutrition Association survey revealed that nearly eight in every ten school districts have had to take steps to offset financial losses since the new nutrition standards were implemented. Actions include reducing staffing, deferring or cancelling equipment investments, and diminishing the meal program’s reserve fund, which is critical for investing in program improvement.

Despite these challenges, School Nutrition professionals are demonstrating their creativity and care for children. Conduct a search for school lunch (meal) success and sites like the following will pop up:

  • School Nutrition Association’s Tray Talk blog and Facebook page for parents feature school meal programs nationwide that are finding creative ways to improve menus and get students excited about healthier choices.
  • On Pinterest, Rock in School Meals has posted Grab-N-Go meal ideas.
  • School Meals That Rock is an organization that features school nutrition programs.

Creative successes include:

  • Student involvement: Healthy Kids Challenge worked with one Florida school to conduct a fun HKC Ready-Set-Cook-and-Eat event, during which students created dishes that became school menu items! A recent School Nutrition Association survey found that 72.3% involve students through taste tests/sampling.
  • Chefs Move to Schools: The program focuses on the interests and expertise of each chef volunteer and the needs of each school.
  • Farm to school programs to incorporate local foods into the menu.
  • School gardens.
  • Food trucks serving summer meals, and at another Florida school, a “Truck of the Month Program.”
  • Grab-and-Go Meals.
  • Food service directors “coaching” nutrition.

Celebrate these and other accomplishments! Share your success on the Healthy Kids Challenge Facebook page.

Health

The benefits of including nutrition education during the school day are hard to ignore!

Benefits for Schools

Helping students stay healthy through eating healthy foods and being physically active can help schools achieve better overall:

  1. Test scores
  2. Grades
  3. Attendance rates
  4. Behavior patterns

Benefits for Parents

Kids spend a great deal of their time in school. A healthy school environment can:

  1. Provide opportunities to learn and practice healthy behaviors

Benefits for Kids

Eating healthier and staying active in school can help kids:

  1. Gain knowledge and skills to make healthy choices
  2. Feel better
  3. Do better in sports
  4. Concentrate
  5. Get better grades and test scores

Source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

If you are looking for assistance in choosing a flexible, easy-to-implement, comprehensive nutrition education program, contact Healthy Kids Challenge!

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For National Bike Month, The League of American Bicyclists suggests you “Get Things Rolling in Your Community.” It is also a good time to “get things rolling” for the other part of healthy balance, which is healthy eating choices. Connect physical activity and healthful eating choices for health and well-being.

In the Healthy Kids Challenge WOWS Newsletter, find a classroom nutrition activity idea. On the community level, there are ways you can help to set kids up for success. How many ways can you think of now? Everywhere we live, learn, work and play, we make eating choices.

One way you can make a difference is at the concession stand. In the summertime, concession stands at ballparks, the local swimming pool and other “hangouts” for kids become significant sources for snacks. Contact administrators and volunteer to help brainstorm healthy snack suggestions to add to the concession menu. Consider bottled water, 100% juice boxes, low fat yogurt containers, low fat cheese sticks, fresh fruit, whole grain cracker packets or juice popsicles.

When asked to add healthier items, one of the first questions concessions operators raise is “If we make a change, will we lose sales?” The answer is that many concessions operators have had good success by adding healthier options.

Student reaching for healthy food in school cafeteria

Schools are working to improve appeal for healthier food choices.

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service published a great tool to help schools rejuvenate cafeterias with colorful fruits and vegetables. The toolkit, Fruits & Vegetables Galore: Helping Kids Eat More, provides excellent downloadable resources.

Tips start with creating a plan, getting “buy in” and taking the lead to address a national health problem. There is a whole resource devoted to creating meal appeal.

Other resources provide:

  • Detail for setting up salad bars, prepared salads
  • Marketing and training
  • Developing quality food service

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The CDC Healthy Schools Guideline 8 states “Provide a school employee wellness program that includes healthy eating and physical activity services for all school staff members.

The benefits of employee wellness programs are fairly well known. They can improve staff productivity, decrease employee absenteeism, and decrease employee health care costs.

While most schools are getting out the message about healthful eating and physical activity connected to healthy bodies and minds, the size and scope of full-fledged wellness programs vary widely. A sustainable comprehensive program requires the support of a wellness coordinator and/or strong wellness committee. In addition, success depends on staff motivation and participation. These things happen with good planning over time, making the case for schools without programs to start small and build momentum for a strong foundation.

HKC’s January 25th WOWS Newsletter has great suggestions for getting started and implementing new ideas in an existing program. If you are in the building momentum phase, be sure take time to reach out to the community, local health professionals and businesses for support.

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