Print (Photo credit: USDAgov)

Whether it’s the USDA Smart Snacks in School or the desire to provide a smart Snack Attack for kids, no matter where they are, change often brings push-back. Getting kids involved in the new snacking strategies, however, is high on our list of best practices.

Involving kids in the process of changing over to smarter snacks can be as simple as asking for their opinions and feedback. They develop ownership in the change as they are allowed to become part of the decisions being made. You may be pleasantly surprised how quickly they start advocating for the change!

  • Try taste tests – Let them choose the food to taste, set up the activity, and participate. This can be as simple as an in-class activity or as involved as a lunch-time tasting challenge for all grade levels. Even letting kids help the foodservice staff prep the food is a skill-building activity that boosts confidence!
  • Survey their peers – Ask kids what they want to have as snacks. Let them create the method to track votes, and initiate the survey. By voting on the new choices, kids will gain ownership in the change and will be more likely to try and eat the new snacks.
  • Create a contest – Voting on favorite new snacks or most popular options can generate positive feedback which in turn makes the healthy choices even more popular! It’s a win-win.
  • Promote benefits – Kids can spread the word about why the changes are being made and the importance of healthy snacks. They can advocate for healthy snacks through their student groups and leadership activities or classroom projects.

Highlights of the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards include:

  • More of the foods we should encourage.
  • Less of the foods we should avoid.
  • Targeted standards.
  • Flexibility for important traditions.
  • Ample time for implementation.
  • Reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply.
  • Flexibility for state and local communities.

The “smart snacks” are also known as “all foods sold in school” standards, and cover vending machines, a la carte lines, school stores, and snack bars. The new standards preserve flexibility for time-honored traditions like fundraisers and bake sales, and provide ample transition time for schools. The implementation deadline is in July 2014.

For more information, refer to the USDA Smart Snacks in School Infographic.

You may also find this helpful: Snack Facts: Raising the Bar for Nutrition Standards in Schools from the The Pew Charitable Trusts – Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project.


Prairie Point Elementary is making strides in integrating physical activity into the school day!  See a snapshot of what this school accomplished in 2 years of working with Healthy Kids Challenge through the HKC-CIGNA Showcase School Challenge. And these are only the physical activity highlights!

Year 1

  • Increased minutes of motion in 100% of classrooms by 30 minutes per week; a 30% increase over the previous year! Collectively, students are getting an additional 15,000 minutes of activity each week! Some of the steps to this success included:
    • Integrated activity bursts into core curriculum, which increased from 0% to 40% of classrooms every day.
    • School district purchased beach balls and scarves for 100% of classrooms.
    • 100% students, 95% teachers, and 5% parents took a 1-week physical activity challenge. After taking the challenge 55% of participants said they had more physical activity because of the challenge.
    • Walking school bus (one day per week for 8 weeks) participation was 23% students, 3% parents, and 1% staff. After the 8 week program, 50% reported they had more physical activity because of the program.
  • 90% of 3rd – 5th grade teachers reported improved student focus in their classrooms since implementing physical activity changes.
  • 50% more staff are participating in wellness activities since becoming a Showcase School.
  • 100% of staff and students participated in new bi-monthly walks. More than 2,250 miles have been walked collectively!
  • 200% increase in the number of events that send healthy messages or include physical activity in just this school year!

“HKC has achieved many things and its importance is obvious! It was an eye opening experience on how the little things can really add up to a lot. I like the module that talks about instead of doing something new, keep what exists and make it better.”  CIGNA Showcase School, Prairie Point Elementary, Kansas City, MO, Andrea Best, Health Room Aide

Year 2

School-wide minutes of motion were added last year, but administration challenged the staff to add even more physical activity throughout the school day this year.  Guidance and ideas from Healthy Kids Challenge, faculty meetings, and an on-site presentation helped staff meet the challenge this year.  Here is a sampling of how movement was integrated throughout the school environment:

  • More movement to and from classes:  students could be seen hopping to lunch, walking backwards to their classroom, or doing hand work on their way to computer lab.
  • More movement during class:  every classroom teacher energized students with quick brain breaks
  • More movement as a reward for good behavior:  an extra 20 -minute recess on Fridays for 192 students in 2 grade levels
  • More movement during special events: A Spirit assembly held all-school relays and a Holiday assembly challenged students and staff in snowman-building and reindeer races.

By the end of the year, the increased physical movement outside of P.E. resulted in 100% of the 24 classrooms having added brain breaks,

23 (96%) integrated activity into curriculum,

8 (33%) added minutes of recess, and

23 (96%) increased movement during recess. 

That is approximately 20 minutes more physical activity for all 506 students weekly as compared to last year. 

The total minutes added per student for the entire year:  720!

“The entire school – 506 students in 24 classrooms – doubled the minutes of motion compared to last year.  Teachers love the Jammin’ Minutes I send out once a week with classroom ideas for brain breaks and more.  Staff enjoy the interaction with the students and are seeing the benefits of it.”  CIGNA Showcase School, Prairie Point Elementary, Kansas City, MO, Andrea Best, Health Room Aide

Taste testing activity

Students taste testing foods at Syracuse Elementary Healthy Kids Challenge

What happens when you combine Healthy Kids Challenge expertise with a school that is ready to change? Small, simple changes over time culminate into policies and practices that support healthy actions.

The Healthy Kids Challenge School Challenge is excited to highlight Syracuse Elementary School in Syracuse, KS, for their ongoing forward progress in school wellness practices and policies.  Over the past 5 years, the school district and local community along with Healthy Kids Challenge distance assistance have made strides in meeting the challenge for a healthier school environment:

  • An active school wellness committee implements healthy eating and physical activity events
  • Administration sees the value of, and provides ongoing support for, healthy change
  • P.E. is maximized for movement 5 days a week and activity is integrated into classrooms
  • Teamwork to develop and implement a district-wide snack policy
  • Combined actions for physical activity and healthy eating exist across the curriculum
  • Staff role model healthy changes and participate in wellness programs
  • Parents and community are engaged in wellness actions through special events, parent-teacher conferences, and newsletters

The school district won student and parent support for the snack policy in an innovative way.  School staff developed snack surveys during a summer break, which were given to every student in K-6th grades the first week of school.  Then at “Back to School Night”, parents participated in a session on healthy eating, reviewed results of the students’ surveys, and sampled healthy snacks.  At the end of the night, a plan was unveiled to students and parents on how to strengthen the school’s nutrition policies.  Through student and family input, and support from HKC staff the school district successfully built awareness, appeal, and ownership for the coming change.

Taking survey results into consideration, the Board of Education adopted the following as part of the new policy:

  • “Special Lunch”, which used to be a soda and candy bar, was renamed “Snack and Chat” and features a healthy snack each quarter.
  • Reading Goal rewards are no longer candy and pop, but extra recess time or a new book.
  • Classroom Snacks allowable, and chosen by the students, include popcorn, fruit, and pretzels.

“We truly are all learning more about how to be healthy.  We feel that promoting sound health practices, healthy eating and physical activity will create healthier children who will, in turn, be ready to learn,” said Barbara Harris, At-Risk Coordinator for the school.

As Pearl S. Buck said, “Solution is possible where acceptance is ready.”  What solutions are working for your school?

A Healthy Kids Challenge view of school physical education standards when it comes to wellness…and one of our simple, every day, evidence-based solutions. 

What Schools Tell Us: 

What do you do when physical education time gets whittled away to accommodate for school musical programs and special events? 

Research Confirms:

Based on the Bridging the Gap research program, many districts had policies that required a specific amount of time for physical activity, but not for physical education. In this way, some district policies actually encouraged schools to fall below recommendations of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education (NASPE) for time spent in physical education (i.e., 150 minutes of physical education per week at the elementary level and 225 minutes per week at the middle and high school levels).


Support recommendations of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education (NASPE) for school time spent in physical education. Give physical education respect like other class curriculum topics. Share best practice ideas with physical educators you know, like the one below! 

The HKC best practice, Goal Setting Motivates Kids, shows a fun pedometer activity that increases minutes of motion in P.E. class when kids set their own goals. 

Putting  Physical Education into Action = Best Practice 

Share your physical education ideas with us!

A Healthy Kids Challenge view of school competitive food and beverage standards when it comes to wellness…and one of our simple, every day, evidence-based solutions. 

What Schools Tell Us: 

Competitive food and beverage sales impact different school areas: foodservice and fundraising for instance, and its hard to bring everyone to an agreeable standard to follow? 

Research Confirms: 

Based on the Bridging the Gap research program, many districts addressed the sale of competitive foods and beverages in its wellness policy, but most guidelines were vague .
There are no national restrictions on the marketing of competitive foods and beverages on school campuses.

With current nutrition information available and government attention to childhood obesity, there is great opportunity to develop strategies and clarify competitive food and beverage standards. See the HKC best practice idea below to help you get started!

The HKC best practice, School District Supports New Policy, shows the simple changes to a district’s competitive food and beverage policy and how the district got support from the parents by involving them in the decisions.

Putting Simple Competitive Food and Beverage Policies into Action = Best Practice 

Let us know what your school or district has done to address this issue!

A Healthy Kids Challenge view of school meal standards when it comes to wellness…and one of our simple, every day, evidence-based solutions. 

What Schools Tell Us: 

We meet the minimum USDA school meal standards, isn’t that enough? 

Research Confirms: 

Based on the Bridging the Gap research program, most districts established a wellness policy that required the nutritional guidelines for school meals to meet the minimum USDA school meal standards, but they are based on the outdated 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and don’t reflect current nutrition science. However, more than 50 percent of all students nationwide were enrolled in a district with a policy that clearly required the school meal standards to meet or exceed the more stringent 2005 Dietary Guidelines.

Simple Steps! Add one healthy school meal addition or change at a time to see how easy it can be! 

The HKC best practice,School Foodservice Makes a Healthy Impact, shows that a simple menu addition of Ranch dressing and raw veggies can increase healthy veggie choices made by kids at lunch! 

Putting Simple School Meal Changes into Action = Best Practice 

Let us know the healthy school meal changes you have made!

A Healthy Kids Challenge view of nutrition education when it comes to wellness…and one of our simple, every day, evidence-based solutions.

What Schools Tell Us:

We don’t have time to add nutrition curriculum to an already full day.

We need quick, easy ideas to integrate nutrition education.

Research Confirms:

While the majority of students are in a district that includes nutrition education goals in its wellness policy, there is great inconsistency in the specific provisions.

Policies are vague, lacking specific timelines and methods to implement; therefore little execution takes place.


Take action! Use interactive games and activities for nutrition education that are fun and easy!

The HKC classroom best practice activity, Queen and King of MyPyramid,  shows how simple it is to teach classroom nutrition that kids will remember!

Six kids are each given a colored scarf representing a MyPyramid food group. The kids tie the scarves on like sashes, receive a bucket and are given titles such as “Queen of the Fruit” or Veggie King”. Other classmates retrieve pictures of foods across the room and deliver them to the correct “kingdoms”.

For more of our fun nutrition education activities, click here.

Putting Nutrition Education into Action = Best Practice

Nutrition education that is interactive leads to behavior modification. We know our    HEAR – SEE – DO approach reinforces healthy change!

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