Set the Stage for Wellness

January 9, 2017

Cute Hispanic elementary school student holding tray of cafeteria food

Studies show that children eat approximately one-third of their daily food intake while at school.

When students have the option, they are more likely to purchase foods and beverages that are high in calories, fats, and/or sugar. On the school campus these foods are called competitive foods because they compete with school meals. These options are frequently found in places such as vending machines, school stores, à la carte lines, class parties, and as fundraisers.

Setting the stage requires wellness policies with guides to meet standards for healthier choices. For the policies to be successful they also need widespread acceptance. From the people who implement the policy to those who are impacted by it, success has the greatest potential when the following actions are taken:

  1. Involve everyone in the process, including the creation and implementation of the policies. If you don’t have a Student Advisory Group (SAG), it can be very helpful to create one. SAG can conduct surveys with peers to obtain constructive feedback.
  2. Instead of “reinventing the wheel,” learn from the lessons learned by others. See the January 11th issue of the WOWS Newsletter for helpful resources.
  3. Through marketing and nutrition education, create an interest in wellness. The Healthy Kids Challenge Explore MyPlate With School Nutrition Guidebook is an easy-to-use guide with tips and tools for school nutrition services managers and wellness teams! Action ideas are designed to increase participation through marketing and promotion and help meet the HealthierUS School Challenge. Content includes MyPlate, trivia, bulletin boards, food science experiments to link with curriculum standards, menu planning tips, and fun ideas for youth advisory councils. The guidebook is designed for programs serving students in grades K-8.


Schools participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative are working towards helping kids make healthy eating choices a habit. A smarter lunchroom is one that nudges kids towards nutritious foods.

Solutions for creating Smarter Lunchrooms are low cost/no-cost and easily implemented, such as:

  • Creating an appealing lunchroom environment
  • Promoting healthful eating behaviors
  • Sustaining the positive changes made

Best practices and lunchroom solutions that the Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative endorses have been studied and proven effective in a wide variety of schools across the nation. Examples include:

Studies have also shown that:

Over 30 million children are fed by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Smarter Lunchrooms are making a healthy difference!

Logo for the USDA's Team Nutrition program.

Logo for the USDA’s Team Nutrition program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always said there is something special and uniquely different about school food service staff. They care about kids, they love their work and they stay put! I had the opportunity to work with about 100 school food service directors/managers last week in Nebraska and I had them write down their years of service to kids and schools. Take a guess what the total number of years was for all those service years combined. OVER 1000 years of service dedicated to tasty, nutritious meals and healthy kids, AMAZING! Imagine all the changes some of those managers with 30+ years of service have seen! Team Nutrition is there.

My time with them was too short, but here are a few of the success stories I heard:

  • Theme days get kids excited! For example, at Halloween putting dry ice under the salad bar, playing spooky music and renaming salad bar items to fit the theme
  • Pioneer Day where the salad bar looked like a covered wagon and kids named the salad bar items through a writing assignment where they learned about life on the prairie long ago
  • Inviting local everyday heroes to lunch, like the firemen, policemen, and those serving in the military to share how healthy living is what helps them be heroes
  • Encouraging school alumni to come and eat with the kids – How cool to have graduates come back and enjoy conversation and healthy meals with the kids
  • FREE samples
  • Taste test panels – where kids get to choose what they like best and even see it on the menu too
  • Music in the cafeteria to make the whole atmosphere more welcome and inviting
  • Grab and go meals and even delayed breakfast in the classroom for when kids are really getting that midmorning slump – what creativity and dedication to kids

I could write and write stories of how Nebraska schools are already TEAMing Up for Kids through school food service and you know the cool part? These folks STILL came to training, gave up a summer day, drove across the cornfield state to learn how to do MORE for kids.

Let’s commit to supporting that dedication and hard work…Have you thought about what YOU can do?

I challenge each of us to find one way we can connect with our local school food service team and support healthy meals, nutrition education, parent involvement and healthy kids! Let me hear your actions! Share here, so others can get involved too!

It’s almost back to school time, the time is now, TEAM Up for Kids!

Team Nutrition Logo

Team Nutrition Logo

The HKC team often teases “Where in the world is Vickie?” when they can’t find their director for I could be off on a plane, train, or auto trek across the U.S. working with key kid influencers we call, KidLinks. As I write, I’m in the midst of packing for a nice drive to Nebraska where I’ll get to see the reminders of a wheat harvest just wrapped up and a fields of corn tassling out.  My destination?  Kearney and Lincoln, Nebraska, where I have the honor and privilege of working with 100 school food service managers and team members from all across the state.

Thanks to USDA TEAM Nutrition training funds and the leadership of Zainab Rida, PhD, RD, TEAM Nutrition Coordinator, Nebraska Department of Education, I’ll get to spend a full day with these KidLinks working together to create plans for this coming school year that move beyond just meeting new school meal guidelines to making sure we’re feeding kids, not trashcans! With interactive learning sessions we’ll acknowledge the barriers and challenges but also feature the tools and tactics for success!

I even get to share one of our HKC tools, Explore MyPlate with School Nutrition, that schools across the country have embraced to further nutrition education efforts amongst the school cafeteria, classroom and the home. The vision for the day is that each food service director take home a plan of action for engaging kids, staff, and caregivers to support healthy eating and physical activity. Stay tuned, I’m sure I’ll have some great stories about TEAMing up for kids! – Vickie


Explore MyPlate cover 110810FExplore MyPlate with School Nutrition is the perfect tool for school nutrition services directors and teams looking to involve kids in exploring MyPlate learning.

Fun, easy to use action ideas are designed to help you increase participation through marketing and promotion and help your team meet the HealthierUS School Challenge.

MyPlate-based content includes: food trivia, bulletin boards, food science experiments (already linked with curriculum standards), menu planning tips and fun ideas for youth advisory councils

“I needed to hear this! I know my team can make a difference but no (one) at our school sees that. You have given me tools to step forward and not wait any more, thank you!”
–SFS Director, Minnesota, participant at a Healthy Kids Challenge workshop at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference.

If you haven’t been to the Let’s Move! website, or even if you have, there is always something new to support healthy kids! One thing we love about Let’s Move! is the way they make it easy to choose healthy, easy to take action, and easy to – yes – MOVE.

Easy Move for Schools: Join the HealthierUS Schools Challenge
Take it further: Download the teacher toolkit

Easy Move for Kids: Try new fruits and veggies.
Take it further: Download the full Kids action plan

Easy Move for Parents: Take a walk with your family after dinner.
Take it further: Download a full Parents action plan

Since May is Active Play month at HKC, I do want to point out the whole section on Let’s Move!’s website devoted to getting active. The Get Active section has specific areas targeted at families, schools, and communities. You’ll love the area that gives kids options of “What To Do” on the Let’s Move Outside pages.

A super-easy way to eat healthy is finding the new MyPlate recipes on Pinterest. The Partnership for a Healthier America, Let’s Move!, USDA’s MyPlate, and the nation’s top recipe creators teamed up to make it easier for you to put nutritious meals on the table. Just search for MyPlate Recipes on Pinterest.

Speaking of Pinterest, remember we’re on there too, spreading the word-I mean, the pins-about everything to help build a healthy world for kids! Go to or simply search for our name.

How do you make healthy the easy choice?

Red and purple fruits and veggies

Whether your school is participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge or not, chances are the kids are being introduced to many more fruits and veggies and whole grain servings than they have been used to in the past. So what’s the trick to getting them to EAT those healthy choices? After all, it’s not nutrition unless they eat it…

  1. Set up the cafeteria for success. Success in helping them choose the healthier options that is. Have you heard of the Lunch Line Redesign? Or Smarter Lunchrooms Movement? Check them out for ideas.
  2. Spark interest with color. A rainbow of colors make any meal more appealing, and especially for kids. But don’t stop with the menu options. Add color to the walls using posters and bulletin boards, even repainting the cafeteria to make it more inviting.
  3. Rename the fruits and vegetables. Cooked carrots. Steamed broccoli. Sound appealing? Giving them descriptive names has been shown to help kids get interested in taking them AND eating them! You don’t even have to change how you prep them, just change the name. Examples include: “X-ray vision carrots”, and “Tiny Tasty Tree Tops.”
  4. Ask the kids for input! When you ask their opinion on healthy options, it gives them ownership in the changes, and they are more likely to eat what they helped create. Start a youth advisory council if you haven’t already, or create a simple contest for naming the cafeteria or a holiday menu. Taste tests are a proven winner!
  5. Promote, promote, promote. Think like a marketing expert. “Advertise” your healthy options on bright bulletin boards, or with new, colorful name cards. Change the placement of the veggies and fruit on the lunch line so they are offered first rather than last. Switch out stainless steel bowls for colorful options; even stacking a bowl of fruit on top of an upside down bowl gives visual appeal.

Specific action ideas that go along with these suggestions can be found in Explore MyPlate with School Nutrition™, a Healthy Kids Challenge resource. Action ideas are designed to increase interest in healthy eating and help meet the HealthierUS School Challenge criteria. Content includes MyPlate, trivia, bulletin boards, food science experiments to link with curriculum standards, menu planning tips, and fun ideas for youth advisory councils.

For even more on creating interest in healthy school meals, see the following:
HealthierUS School Challenge
School Meals That Rock
Tray Talk
School Nutrition Association

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