At Mama Jess we are 100% committed to increasing vegetable consumption in America and improving the school lunch program is certainly an essential step. Please read and be inspired by our very own Lori Post and see how she made some amazing changes in her children’s school district. I know this will spark some great movement among our Mama Jess friends and fans – so fair warning to all our wonderful principals, wellness committees and lunchroom staff! Healthy eating advocates are coming! Please keep us posted on changes you make in your schools – we will be tracking and updating this story.
For our kids,
Food For Thought
As the 2011-2012 school year comes to a close, I want to give you some “food for thought.” Did your child’s school address good nutrition as part of the curriculum? Were you satisfied with the nutritional value and quality of the lunches served at your school? If so, you can wait to read my next article. If not, how about spending some time this summer thinking about the potential you have to make a difference in your student’s nutrition education at school. Most likely you spend time with your kids helping them with their math, reading and writing lessons, but did you ever think you could help promote nutrition lessons in the cafeteria and/or the classroom? Whether your child brings a lunch from home or buys lunch at school, the lunchroom is part of his/her school experience. Kids learn ideas about nutrition simply by seeing how food is prepared and served as well as from each other’s plates. But, what are they learning? Truly, your child’s school cafeteria is an extension of their classroom and the more educators can link teaching and learning in the classroom to healthy food in the lunchroom, the more we can help children develop healthier eating habits that will last their lifetime.
As the mother of three school age children, I took the initiative to become involved with improving student nutrition through education. I believe kids really do want to grow healthy bodies. We just need to empower them with the knowledge to make healthful choices. The first thing I did was to educate myself on my kids’ cafeteria experience. I ate lunch with them on several occasions and took note of the opportunity there was to promote nutrition as they ate their lunches with their classmates. If your child’s school already has a Wellness Committee in place, your next step in this effort would be to meet with the chair of that group. Likely, your child’s school has a “wellness policy” that promotes student health and well-being, and ability to learn through healthy eating and physical activity. This policy can help you get your discussion started. While I represented my children’s elementary school on a district level Wellness Committee, our school did not have its own Wellness Committee. I met with the principal, who I might add was very enthusiastic, and got the ball rolling. You might also find support through the PTO board, and/or school foodservice director in exploring what potential your school might have for more lunchroom nutrition education. Below are some activities our committee initiated, which were well received by our students – and their parents!
The week of March 19th, 2012, our Wildcat Wellness Committee promoted National Nutrition Month in the elementary school lunchroom. It proved to be an ideal time to highlight the importance of fruits and vegetables. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ theme this year, “Get your Plate in Shape” partnered well with the newly released USDA’s MyPlate for Kids message to make half your plate fruit and vegetables. Each day started with a message from the principal spotlighting nutritional benefits of the “Super food” of the day (Monday, broccoli; Tuesday, strawberries; Wednesday, kiwi; Thursday, spinach; and Friday, sweet potatoes). A nutritionally related five-minute classroom activity was also sent to each teacher to help reinforce the lesson. During the lunch hour, parent volunteers helped me educate students about the importance of making half their plate fruit and/or vegetables. If a student had a serving of fruit and a serving of a vegetable (or two fruits or two vegetables), he was awarded a sticker that provided some type of positive message like “Fueled by Fruits and Vegetables,” “I’m eating SUPER foods,” and “I’m a MyPlate Superstar.” To my surprise at the start of the week, there were many kids who did not know the food groups. I had pocket size MyPlate handouts that served well to teach them about which foods in their lunch box, or tray, fit into the whole grains, fruit, vegetable, protein or dairy group. By the end of the week, I had run out of stickers and had to open my stash of MyPIate bookmarks. I went through 1200 stickers that week! I was amazed at the efforts that even the fifth-graders made over the course of one week to “get their plate in shape” and proudly show off their stickers!
We added to the fun, midweek, in the lunchroom. On Wednesday, we offered jicama samples to any student willing to try. Of course, we had a special sticker for that too, proudly announcing, “I tried it!” I so enjoyed seeing how the peer pressure could promote palate education! As a group of students gathered to try a sample, three would eagerly put the jicama in their mouth, while two would watch. I’d ask those who tried it, “what did you think it tasted like?” One would say, “apple,” another, “celery,” then the third, “a potato.” Then, I’d turn to the two that where still trying to decide if they wanted a sample and said, “Hmmm. I wonder what your taste buds would think?” And then, bravely, the others would try too! Very few students that day turned down the sample. The best part came Thursday and Friday. As I promoted the “Super food” of the day and passed out stickers to those students who had their “plates in shape,” I saw lots of jicama! Students had gone home and asked their parents to buy jicama because they wanted it in their lunch box. The positive feedback from parents and staff has prompted another sample day for the remaining months of school. In April, we sampled apricots along with Moroccan Chicken made with honey and raisin. This week, I’m be back in the lunchroom sampling a new Tuscan bean salad. And starting next fall, our committee will start a “Food of the Month” club, sampling a vegetable on “Wellness Wednesday” each month during the school year of 2012-13.
I never dreamed how much nutrition education could be accomplished during a 20 minute lunch period, but I am a believer now! And I encourage you to start sharing your passion for good nutrition with your child’s school. The foundation for healthy eating is laid early in life by engaging kids, their families and their communities in a dialogue, exposing them to different foods and providing nutrition education through fun activities. Good luck and happy, healthy eating!
Lori Post, R.D., L.D.