How Can We Get Schools to Foster Healthy Eating Habits?


Photo by Ezra Gregg via DC Central Kitchen/Flickr.com.
Guest bloggers Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer are co-founders of NaturallySavvy.com.

Convincing kids to eat healthy foods is tough, but getting parents to come over to the healthy school lunch camp can be even tougher.

A few of the moms at my kids school have been waging an uphill battle with some of the parents at my kids' school. Some parents have been downright belligerent about our suggestions, mocking the healthier suggestions we've made--even simple things like natural freezies or healthier cookie alternatives. It's particularly sad given the whole point is to encourage the school to help foster good eating habits among children so they can focus better in the classroom and learn more throughout their day.Schools should be taking an active role in educating children about healthy eating, including leading by example. First and foremost, we know that healthy eating is related to performance in school, and let's face it: a school is for learning, and kids need to learn how to eat better.

Study after study has shown that healthy eating and regular exercise are the keys to combating the childhood obesity epidemic we're facing in North America. An estimated 17% of kids aged two to 19 are obese according to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and various studies have indicated overweight or obese children are more likely to become obese adults.

Ways Schools Can Make Fundraisers Healthier
At some events, my kids' school has charged more for the healthier option, and that can understandably be a real deal-breaker for parents on a budget. We think that schools should be taking the high ground and purchasing healthier products even if it eats into the total money raised. It's worth it in the long run.

Here are a few ways schools can raise money while offering healthier foods to kids:

  • Barbecues: Look for nitrate-free hotdogs, and all-natural hotdogs and hamburger patties. Source buns from a local bakery rather than using highly processed buns.
  • Pizza Lunch: Choose healthier options, such as whole-wheat crust and look for pizzerias that use nitrate-free pepperoni. For dessert, suggest healthier junk food options such as all-natural or organic cookies and ask for them to be made with less sugar.
  • Bake Sales: Ask parents to use healthy ingredients in goods for bake sales, such as oats, dark chocolate (instead of milk chocolate), and raisins. Reduced-sugar recipes are also great, and schools could suggest organic cake mixes for healthier cupcakes when parents are baking at the last minute.
Educating Parents We also think schools should be taking a proactive approach when it comes to lunches and snacks. It's tough to get parents to invest in healthier foods when money is tight, but there are non-confrontational ways to approach parents.

A simple seminar on healthy lunches could be a great addition to parent nights or orientation. Schools could bring in a nutritionist to talk to the parents, but they should try to avoid asking a parent with a student at the school to speak, since it could create friction with another parent who is resistant to change.

Speak to your kids' teachers about broaching the subject in the classroom. I noticed the kindergarten teachers at my kids' school are very proactive in encouraging parents to send healthy snack options for their kids since they notice how what the kids are eating are directly affecting their behavior. They also talk to the kids about healthy food options and include it in their curriculum (my daughter recently came home with an arts and crafts project she did in school and showed me all the healthy food options she chose to include in it). It would fantastic if the teachers from the older grades would do the same. Kids respect their teachers and if the mandate is coming from the teachers themselves, kids may be more prone to listening and encouraging their parents to send it healthier lunches and snacks.

Another option is to get kids involved in encouraging healthy food purchases and eating by creating a school recipe book for healthy snacks and lunches. A digital copy could be emailed to parents and/or students (depending on the age of the student), which would ensure it doesn't get lost and also keep expenses low, not to mention save a lot of paper.

Schools have an opportunity to teach kids about the value of a healthy diet. It's a lesson that will stay with the students for a lifetime--and chances are that lifetime will be longer and healthier if they're putting good things into their bodies.

More on Healthy Eating
Wake Up America,Jamie Oliver's Healthy Lunches Make Kids Smarter
Study Says Kids Get 40 Percent of Calories from Junk Food: What Part of Childhood Obesity Don't We Understand?
Wisconsin School Cuts Crime By Changing the Menu

Tags: Diet | Education | Fruits & Vegetables | United States