Healthy food choices equal healthier kids. That is why food in schools is an important component of a child’s day, and education. Little brains need nutritious lunches, snacks and breakfasts that are rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies. In recent years, a number of initiatives on many levels have led to major improvements across the country to promote better eating and reduce obesity in children.
However, change is not easy for an institution as large as the school system and it takes a concerted effort on the behalf of Parent Teacher Associations & Organizations, school workers, educators, parents and community members to teach our kids the healthy way to eat.
Tool kits for Principles, Educators, Parents and School Nutrition workers
The internet is a huge resource for national programs and smaller ones in your area. To make sure your school is living up to its healthy eating potential, check out these sites:
- Let’s Move is the government program that encourages healthy eating in schools. There is a teacher toolkit on the website that encourages healthy eating and ideas for lesson plans and activities.
- The USDA’s The School Day Just Got Healthier has information on their Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Breakfast Toolkit and Smart Snacks Product Calculator.
- Does your school participate in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act? It provides an additional 6 cents reimbursement for every healthy meal served. That amount of change can really add up!
PTAs & PTOs can get in the game, too!
There are many fun and easy activities that an organized group of parents and teachers can accomplish to make learning about healthy eating an exciting experience.
- Plant a garden: Sure, this means coordinating with school officials, custodians, teachers and students, and more than a little elbow grease, but your hard work will pay off in spades. Kids don’t just get to enjoy the fruits of their labor in the form of fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables, they learn about the production of food… it’s kind of important.
- Visit a local farm or farmer’s market: A lot is happening at your local farm or farmer’s market; go see how milk is processed or how cheese is produced. Farmers will be excited to share their knowledge and a farmer’s market holds an unlimited amount of delicious treasure for healthy eating.
- After school cooking club: Turn to a local culinary student or knowledgeable parent to teach kids basic cooking skills. Kids will enjoy learning about food preparation and will be more interested in what they are eating. Have a local chef make a guest appearance or visit a restaurant’s kitchen during an off-time.
- Food and exercise journal: Distribute food journals to kids so they have a chance to document their meals, snacks and activities.
What Parents Can Do
- Start at Home. Parents can encourage healthy eating at school by teaching healthy eating at home. Make sure to stock the fridge and fruit bowl with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Kids, and parents alike will eat what they see, and you will be surprised at how quickly that fruit bowl is emptied.
- Get Together. Form a dedicated group of parents to assist healthy eating in school. Hold taste tests, cooking classes, school gardens and awareness activities to encourage healthy eating.
- Grant Writing: This can be an excellent funding avenue for a motivated parent group. It’s true, many healthy eating activities fall outside of school budget parameters. However, the good news is that help is just a few clicks away. Visit healthykidschallenge.com, which posts grant opportunities offered by organizations across the country.
There are lots of resources to encourage healthier eating at school. However, none of these changes will happen without the efforts of parents, teachers and school officials. Encourage healthy eating at home, present ideas to the PTA/PTO and ask officials if they are involved in larger federal programs that promote nutritious eating. For just a little involvement, the payoff is huge. And our kids deserve the best.