With the start of a new academic year, our kids are once again spending over thirty hours per week at school. While today’s education challenges are great and the typical school curriculum tightly packed, there are still opportunities for schools to reinforce positive nutrition habits with students, and many big and small ways for educators to improve the culture in their school around food.
Snack suggestions for elementary age kids
For our youngest students who are most likely to be bringing foods from home into the classroom and influencing their peers with their choices, a snack guide is a great way to start. Provide suggestions to parents at the start of the year and ask parents to pass on snacks that are high in sugar or considered less healthful.
Coaches start season with a nutrition talk
Your child’s coach is one of the most influential people in their life. Set a district wide goal for all coaches to start the season with a nutrition talk conducted by a local dietitian. When athletes are eating well, you have a significant portion of the school putting healthful food first.
Commit to the National School Lunch Standards
Okay, so maybe it’s not a small change to adhere to the greatest changes in school lunch standards we have seen in decades, but it is necessary and actually not that hard when an entire district commits to informing parents, teachers and students about new snack and meal standards and only providing options that meet these guidelines.
A Little Bigger
District-wide policy for parties/event
I know that change doesn’t come easy and the individuals in charge of bake sales and other events struggle with the idea of removing less healthful foods from these occasions. However, adhering to district wide policy forces “outside the brownie” thinking (and ensures you are complying with the Smart Snacks program).
Alter the academic curriculum
A project that has kids pretending to run their own donut shop, a lesson in graphing that uses candy, a business class that highlights less healthful brands: these moments may not seem like much, but they do maintain a culture that keeps these unhealthful foods top of mind. From language arts lessons to math, there are many ways to incorporate healthy eating messages into a curriculum.
Form a district wide wellness committee
Composed of parents, teachers, administrators, coaches and students, a wellness committee drives wellness initiatives forward. From policy setting to nutrition education for families, the formation of a wellness committee says a district is committed to their wellness goals.
Taking it on
Plant a garden
It takes dedicated volunteers and funding, but a school garden can change the culture of a district. Locating a spot and securing a grant may be challenging, but once a garden is flourishing it can provide healthy options for your cafeteria to inspire new dishes, offer an opportunity for kids to be active and teach students and parents how to create gardens in their own homes.
Keep culinary programs alive
Tight curriculums have meant a decline in home economics and culinary programs. The result is that kids aren’t learning how to prepare even very basic foods. Keep culinary programs alive in your district and you are committing to giving students lifelong skills; emphasize healthy cooking techniques and nutritious foods and you are doing even more.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
As a dietitian, I’ve served on wellness committees; as a parent, I’ve interacted with my own district. I know all too well hard it can be to make change. That said, the recommendations I make here are intentionally designed to meet the needs of different school districts and most importantly to meet them where they are at to begin to the process of change. String together enough small changes and you will achieve a significant shift in the wellness culture of your district.
Has your district successfully incorporated nutrition policies and change? Please share!